The Real History of the @reply on Twitter

I have always half-jokingly taken credit for inventing the @reply on Twitter. Or at least for starting its wide-spread use on Twitter—I got the idea from seeing people do it over at Flickr, where it had been happening for more than a year. But until today I continued to claim I was the first person to do it on Twitter. Recently, user @rabble put together a blog post titled Origin of the @reply - Digging Through Twitter’s History, in which he did some research to show when it was first used. Only his research isn’t entirely correct and it doesn’t give fair credit to everyone involved.

It turns out that I’m not the inventor of the @reply, though I’m definitely one of the pioneers. Robert Andersen seems to be the father of the @reply on Twitter. He sent this message on November 2, 2006 at 8:58PM (all times in this post are Pacific—if you’re reading this from the Tumblr Dashboard, all the dates will look funky):

A few weeks later, on November 21, 2006 at 3:19PM, Jon Hicks tweeted:

After that message there was a lull and then, for some reason, on November 23, 2006, myself and a bunch of other people started using the @reply all on the same day. Collective consciousness, I suppose, considering I’ve never seen any of these people’s tweets before and they’ve never seen mine. Whatever it was that started this, it happened early that morning when Neil Crosby tweeted:

And at 2:10AM, Ben Darlow responded in kind:

And a few minutes later, Rachel Andrew:

These first few @replies were all connected. You can see this as a pattern in the initial use of the construct. For instance, a few hours later, I used it for the first time to reply to Indranil Dasgupta’s question at 8:11AM:

And then minutes later, at 8:15AM, Elisabeth Iskrem P tweeted in the same thread (back before there was such a thing):

And to bring this full circle, a few days later, I used the @reply to reply to Robert Andersen, my pal and the father of the @reply on Twitter:

I’ll have to stop claiming I invented the @reply now, but it’s nice to have been a part of the group who helped get it started. It’s very hard to search back this far in Twitter, so if anyone finds earlier examples or an error on my part, please let me know. And thanks to Shawn for helping me find some of these early tweets.