How TXTMob influenced Twitter

How TXTMob influenced the creation of Twitter as a Social Media Organizing Tool


TXTMob—started by Tad Hirsch, Evan Henshaw-Plath (@Rabble), and others—was a forum on which participants could share mass messages with friends or strangers via SMS.  This program was created as an anonymous social organizing tool that promoted decentralized participation.  Rather than organizing protesters in one particular location, TXTMob allowed several participating groups to locate in strategic locations throughout a given region.  For example, TXTMob was used effectively to organize several spontaneous protests during the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC).  During the RNC the same individuals did not coordinate all of the protests; rather, TXTMob allowed any participant to organize a protest, or share important information with the larger group.

According to developers, TXTMob was mostly successful because it allowed participants to remain anonymous while participating.  It became impossible for law enforcement to control the messages sent via TXTMob, because there was such widespread participation.  Many participants said that the program helped them feel safe during the protest, because they were aware of important information and could remain anonymous. Henshaw-Plath further explains:

“First when you delete your account, remove your phone number, etc… it really does remove it. No record left of your messages, your login, your phone number. Secondly txtmob does not use a short code, nor is there a legal agreement between txtmob and the carriers. Rather txtmob uses the path of least resistance to deliver messages, finding holes and cracks in the sms system to let messages pour through. Tracking txtmob messages is more like tracking p2p traffic than the american idol voting via sms. This not following the rules is probably why the NYPD went to txtmob instead of the carriers. The data is many places, but txtmob is the easy place to get it, if it’s there.  The task of going to the carriers or the NSA to get the txtmob data is much harder than getting it directly from the source. First it’s a HUGE data-mining task. It’d involve using something like hadoop or google’s map/reduce to load up the data, and then tracking down a few thousand sms’s out of a stream of trillions. Most of the time operators are lazy, it’s easy to get them to comply with even questionably legal orders for data, my employer is a great example. Service providers tend to log MUCH more data than they need, in the name of security, potential datamining, etc. If we don’t have that data, then we are both able to follow the law, and protect our users.”  (quoted from:


In 2006, Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Evan Henshaw-Plath (@rabble,) and a group of developers at the Odeo podcasting company developed a social networking and micro blogging site called Twitter.  When it first started, Twitter allowed users to SMS their whereabouts and activities in 140 text characters to a database that shared the information with friends.

Henshaw-Plath had helped Ed Hirsch develop TXTMob in 2004 for the RNC, and he was also on the development team for Twitter.  He stated that from the beginning of the Twitter project, TXTMob was the model program because it encompassed many of Twitter’s desired features.  He states, “While txtmob has been compared to twitter, txtmob predates twitter and was very explicitly talked about as a model to be copied / learned from in the creation of twitter.” When it was created, no one knew exactly how Twitter would be used, but it has become a popular medium for social media activism and organizing because it allowed individuals to post messages that were extremely difficult to track.  Twitter came from a similar concept as TXTMob, but it created a larger user base by attracting the use of mainstream society.  Today, Twitter is not only used for activism and organizing, but it is also become a popular news source for a wide demographic of users.

Useful links for further reading:

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2 Responses to How TXTMob influenced Twitter

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