Remember that great zinger you tweeted to your colleague on 27 March 2008? Probably not. Helpfully, Twitter, which had previously allowed users only to look back a few months or weeks over their output, has slowly rolled out to all users the option to download a spreadsheet of your entire tweeting history. Since its launch in 2006 the website has amassed over 500 million users and spawned multiple subcultures and #rules while becoming the go-to website of choice for journalists to argue with other journalists, pop stars to share their thoughts on the McRib sandwich and racists to semi-anonymously abuse footballers.
But these developments took time and when most people started using the site the discourse – limited as it was due to there not being as many people to @ – wasn't as refined as, er, it now is. Witness this effort from one @willydean in April 2009: "Can't stop wobbling my Dexter bobblehead." Now that's the kind of discourse that made Twitter a medium to change the world. We asked some of our finest writers to delve back into the murky prehistory of their Twitter personas. For most, the results were unedifying.
Will Dean @willydean
Grace Dent, columnist
My Twitter archive – almost five years of spur-of-the-moment brainfarts – has been on offer to some users for a while, but I couldn't bring myself to press "download". In fact, the thought made me feel vomitous. Twitter has been my No 1 waste of time since 2009. I adore it and hate it in equal amounts, but know I can never ever leave. If anything it just becomes more compelling.
So I didn't want to see evidence of my procrastination, or relive my flirting, political knee jerks and arch-foolishness.
At least with my teenage diaries I can blame hormones and hair-dye fumes. Eventually, I succumbed, and what I found wasn't so awful. It transpires my first tweets were about The EastEnders. "There is not one thing in Janine's wardrobe I would not wear #eastenders". If I had an unusually steep follower rush early on for a newby – I reached 4,000 followers in a few months – it was due to me being pithy and plainly populist, not profound. I love that my Twitter voice – irreverent, daft, uncensored – hasn't really changed since 2009; it gives me great comfort. And I love that a lot of those Twitter names – just weirdos on the internet – from back then are now good friends in real life. A lot of good things came from Twitter.
Rhodri Marsden, writer and columnist
"Of course, I joined Twitter back in March 2007," I say when I'm drunk at parties and failing to impress anyone. In fact, some 1.5 million people joined Twitter before I did – but looking back at those early days it seems that we were all united in a desperate attempt to work out what the hell it was for. We were told that it was going to be "the pulse of society", but it just seemed like a series of pointless blasts into cyberspace. Back then you couldn't even reply to people using the @ sign. "Simply place your business card in the bucket for a chance to win a bucketful of business cards," I tweeted in a moment of confused desperation, before giving up on it for four months.
But something drew me back. In January 2008 I posted 18 tweets; in January 2012 I posted 3,440. And in that time I'd somehow become embroiled in the biggest mental distraction ever invented by mankind.
Tim Walker, LA correspondent
In my very first tweet, sent at 11.33am on 9 July 2007, I drolly suggested that I was already "waiting for the next social-networking phenomenon". It's clear from my early Twitter behaviour that, just like its creators, I hadn't a clue what it was for. Five and a half years and almost 4,000 tweets later, I'm still waiting.
My early micro-blogs contain excited references to such antediluvian cultural artefacts as Nespresso machines and the TV show Heroes. At first, I tweeted in the third person, and yes, I was guilty of food tweeting. Exhibit A, my second tweet: "@timwalker should've had the fish finger butty." In my defence, I only had about five followers then, all from my workplace, and we used the service primarily to make all our mobile phones beep at once. (In the early days, children, every tweet also sent an SMS text message.)
It seemed funny at the time, but the novelty soon wore off and I see that I tweeted just once between September 2007 and 20 February 2009, which is when I began what I think of as my "mature" Twitter phase – with a link to a hilarious website about Russian cats.
Matilda Battersby, online arts editor
Twitter had just celebrated its third birthday when we started our relationship. As a slightly technophobic newbie to the Independent's website in 2009 I quickly signed up, betraying my ineptitude with my first tweet: "Procrastinating." Duh?
My first campaign was to follow as many girls named Matilda as I could. Feeling the pressure to relay witticisms to my few followers I failed, badly spelling words backwards instead (?), the most offensively banal being: "Olleh rettiwT!" At some point I decided Twitter was a vehicle for removing the songs that were filtering through my brain ("How do you solve a problem like Maria?"). It didn't work. I've been a moderate user ever since, preferring to lurk as an observer from the shadows of my mediocre profile, sourcing stories, quotes and entertainment. Some of us just aren't ready for the digital limelight.
Archie Bland, deputy editor
To have access to four years' worth of your most ephemeral observations of the world is a curious thing. We don't normally preserve the throwaway; as a rule, the only pieces of my own past that I pay much attention to are the significant bits.
My early tweets, it is safe to say, are not the significant bits. "Oh! Oh! Am I doing this right? Oh!" I began, trilling like a Victorian debutante at her first ball. "Wish had realised I had stupid hole in boxer shorts as well as stupid hole in trouser crotch," I ventured a month or so later, sounding less like a debutante and unfortunately gaining in confidence what I was losing in perspective on what the world would actually want to hear.
Latterly, I've tried to be more circumspect. I'm not sure I've become any more interesting, though. "Never a red card! Never!" I remarked on Tuesday night, in an offering fairly typical of any time there's football on. It makes me feel a bit queasy to consider that I have made such observations public more than 16,000 times in between. From here on in, it's nothing but Shakespeare and lolcats.
Rebecca Armstrong, features editor
When I signed up to Twitter in 2007 I wasn't being an early(ish) adopter, I was just copying my colleagues. We all signed up at the same time and used our 140 characters to poke fun at each other – and set up our notifications so that a little chime went off whenever we did so. Unsurprisingly, this soon became both boring and annoying, which explains why I sent just 12 tweets in 2007 (including gems such as "trying to do some work despite the seductive 'bings' of more messages" and "why are random people trying to sign up to be my Twitter friend?"). I was more of a Facebook girl then. I ventured back for a few months in 2009 ("tired tired tired and need Monster Munch like a drug") before upping my game a year later, getting my head round RTs, #FFs and trying not to tweet too much about what I've been eating. Now Facebook is dead to me and *simpers* I love #Twitter.
To find your own old tweets visit bit.ly/archiveyourself