A eulogy, of sorts.
At the end of 2008, I was finishing my first semester as a college senior. When I started undergrad, I’d already had a Xanga, LiveJournal, Tumblr, and a barely touched MySpace. Facebook had just opened signups to non-college emails. The online world fascinated me and here came along this network that you could micro-blog on!
I was early enough of an adopter to have my name be my username: @jennifer-chen was what I went with (because I held onto the belief that using my full name was more “professional”). Except for this one instance, I have never been able to create an account on any online network with just my name; that’s how many of us are out there in the world. I remember being intrigued by its web interface, the fact that you could text a number to post your tweet on your profile, that you could receive notifications via text (but not so many texts that they would go past the phone plan’s allowance), and that there was small enough growth that it felt like a close-knit community. #coffeetwitter had not begun.
I used Twitter in the beginning primarily to complain. Just short, little missives where I whined about my roommates, school, and whatever other dramatic thing was happening in my life. Naturally, this evolved as more people joined the site.
It’s difficult to explain the pain of watching Twitter fall to anyone who is not on Twitter or not Very Online. I understand that social networks fall, but I’ve also never spent over a decade of formative years on one of them. I used it to develop my personal branding, watched it become a platform for organizing, and still, enjoy how it connects me to people around the world. It saw me through multiple career changes.
At one point, I ran several accounts. I had one that was for Chicago Coffee Scene, tied to a website I ran about, well, Chicago’s coffee scene. I would keep tabs on what was happening in the city’s specialty coffee companies and notice if anyone prominent in the industry created an account. I had another account for when I briefly ran coffee crawls in the city. Twitter was instrumental for me in marketing and keeping in touch with people.
Twitter meetups were my first introduction to the influencer scene. The founder of the Twitter chat #foodiechats had convinced a restaurant to give us free food and host the chat. I went in expecting to meet fun people and quickly realized that everyone preferred to be glued to their phones.
Last week, I felt shocked and numbed. Despite an attempt to be optimistic, my confidence in Twitter’s future was not very high. I was seeing the past, present, and non-future of #coffeetwitter in one night.
In the early days of #coffeetwitter (pre-dating the hashtag’s existence), there were a few of us who were coffee bloggers. We were hobbyists, but the majority of us ended up working in the industry at some point. The beauty of this was that we could connect with each other, even when we were spread all around the country. We organized a bean exchange—even today, the concept of mailing things to people you’ve never met IRL is still astounding to me. Twitter was a great alternative to forums, where the UI/UX was outdated, the people participating were gatekeeping coffee nerdism, and/or generally filled with too many men who loved to ‘splain.
I asked a few folks who are still on Twitter to share some of their favorite memories. “I ended up establishing a number of relationships, many of which I would end up partnering with at Misto,” replied Seth Mills, who worked at Mistobox as their coffee curator and community liaison. For a while, Adam JacksonBey was voted President of #coffeetwitter and his scheduled selfie check-ins were anchors in a time when nothing felt guaranteed.
When live-tweeting became a thing, SprudgeLive was one of the first to tweet their way through coffee competitions, keeping everyone around the world updated on various routines.
#Coffeetwitter deserves a lot of credit for its part in the specialty coffee industry. It broke down silos, opened up conversations, put gatekeepers on more even ground with newbies, became instrumental in organizing the community, and changed the discourse around racism and sexism and more in the industry. It also had its moments of vitriol, and I understand why some left the platform for more positive, greener fields.
I am less than a month away from my 14-year Twitter-versary. Who knows where the site will be at that point? But I would like to make it to that date if only because 14 is a terribly unlucky number in Chinese culture—so much so that the 14th floor is omitted from elevators. “Fourteen” in Mandarin is the homophonic equivalent of the phrase “certainly dead.” What an apt closure for my time spent on Twitter.