Twitter is now used by millions of people. Its users include small-business owners like Lori Janeson, large corporations such as Microsoft, entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and entertainers such as Tom Hanks. Since its inception, Twitter has become a powerhouse tool for small businesses to reach wider audiences, strengthen brands and build strong online reputations. How did Twitter's iconic 140 characters become a social media legend? Here's the curious story of Twitter's unlikely rise.

It All Started in the Garage, Right?

Well, some tech company giants, like Apple, did start with geeks in a garage. Twitter wasn't one of them. But, Twitter certainly didn't jump on to the scene overnight, either. 

In 2006, a startup podcasting company name Odeo employed a small group of tech savvy professionals. Odeo's platform became impracticable when iTunes came on the scene, but an idea sprang forth during Odeo's existence that was the start of something big. 

The idea sprouted from the brain of Jack Dorsey. Dorsey wanted to develop a short message service (SMS) platform to enable small groups of people to communicate briefly with each other in real time. He began working on the platform as a side to his day job with Odeo. During a meeting, Odeo co-founder, Evan Williams and his partner Biz Stone, gave Dorsey the go-ahead to spend company time on his fledgling idea.

In the early days of SMS, it was common to play on words by dropping vowels. Noah Glass, a software developer who led the push for the SMS platform's development, came up with the name "twttr" for the new service. "Twttr" eventually morphed in to "Twitter."

A First Tweet and Bumps in the Road

Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet March 21, 2006. Did he tweet something profound and memorable? Not exactly. The tweet read "just setting up my twttr." 

OK, the first tweet was lame, but still a historic moment. During development and testing, the tech team racked up hundreds of dollars in messaging charges on their own phones. At the time, Twitter was still under the Odeo umbrella, but that was about to change. 

Apple released its podcasting platform which obliterated Odeo's. The company had gone public, but the original founders bought Odeo back from investors after Apple's release. By buying Odeo back, the founders re-obtained the rights to Twitter. 

The buyback was not without controversy. Former investors later complained that Odeo founders knew they were sitting on a goldmine with Twitter and kept quiet about it before the sale. Investors weren't the only people left behind in the buyback, either. Much of the development team, including Noah Glass, were left out of the buyback process and were not brought in to the new company. 

Twitter Goes South By Southwest

South By Southwest is a conglomerate of film, music and interactive media conferences that takes place in Austin, Texas, once a year. Twitter founders went all-out for the 2007 conference because they knew the typical attendee was a tech savvy individual ready to try something new. And they were right. Over 60 thousand tweets were sent each day of the event. And that was only the beginning.

Growing Pains    

Nothing goes smoothly, particularly in the online world. And when you're talking about a small startup platform that suddenly pops out on the scene and thousands begin to use it at once — it's a given your infrastructure won't be able to handle it. 

Because Twitter's user base grew suddenly and at such a phenomenal rate, the service often went down. Developers knew it would happen but kept their sense of humor even as they worked on building better resources. When users attempted to reach the service when it was over capacity, they were greeted with an illustration by Australian artist Yiying Lu. Originally named "Lifting a Dreamer," the illustration depicted a whale being rescued by a number of small birds. The illustration became known as the "Fail Whale." 

You won't see the "Fail Whale" much anymore. Averaging more than 330 million active users each month, worth billions and with an infrastructure built to meet demands, Twitter is now a legend. Not bad for a little service that began as a "side" job.