Say Goodbye to @sweden, the Last Good Thing on Twitter

When @sweden began its grand experiment in 2011, Twitter had never seemed more full of possibilities. In New York, Twitter served as a digital bulletin board to organize protesters at Occupy Wall Street. In the Middle East, tweets served as the roots of the Arab Spring. Companies signed on to engage with customers; celebrities made accounts to grow their fanbases. And in Sweden, the government came up with a crazy idea: “How about we let any Swede—like, literally any of them—use the nation’s official Twitter account?”

That experiment is now about to end. On Sunday, after seven years, @sweden will stop posting. And we’ll lose the last good thing on Twitter.

The account leaves behind a repository of 200,000 tweets from 356 curators. Encoded in those tweets are observations about Sweden, about humanity, about the power of social media. But @sweden hasn’t just been a glimpse into the daily life of Swedes—it’s also shown the rise and fall of Twitter.

Before @sweden was run by its citizens, it was a fairly run-of-the-mill tourism account. It tweeted about Swedish celebrities, Swedish holidays, tips for visiting Sweden, and the occasional photo of meatballs. It had fewer than 8,000 followers, none of whom seemed particularly eager to fav, reply, or retweet.

“We wanted to find something engaging and authentic and real,” says Anna Rudels, the head of the Department of Digitalization and Communication at the Swedish Institute, a governmental agency responsible for promoting Sweden to the world. “So we came up with the idea to let the people of Sweden tell [other people] about Sweden.”

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The plan was simple: Every week, a new Swede would get the keys to @sweden, and the chance to share anything they wanted about Swedish life. (The only rule: nothing illegal.) The Swedish Institute partnered with a Stockholm-based creative agency to recruit some Twitter-literate Swedes, and found Jack Werner, a 22-year-old who had made his way into the Swedish media scene by writing about the internet. Werner agreed to be the account’s first “curator.”

“I’ve often thought since then that they wanted me to be the first to make a fool out of myself,” Werner says.

Werner’s early tweets disrupted @sweden’s feed of travel tips and tourism information. He was candid, at times extremely personal, with a somewhat crude sense of humor. He tweeted about everything from dubstep to the death of his grandmother. When one follower asked how he coped with Swedish winters, he recommended masturbation. “In the first couple of days, I lost thousands of followers,” he says.

But Werner’s tweets also set the tone for what @sweden would become: real; engaging; not burdened with representing the whole of Sweden. By the time Werner finished his week as @sweden, American tech blogs had written about the experiment and the account had gained almost 10,000 followers. Today, there are 146,000.

As the account grew, the Swedish Institute created a committee to select new curators. The group receives about 20 nominations each month for new curators (you can nominate someone, but can’t put your own name forward, which itself is extremely Swedish). The committee tries to select Swedes from different walks of life, but there are no hard rules about what constitutes a “Swede.” Curators have included people who have never left the country and people who just moved there; Guatemalans, South Africans, and Australians who have taken up residency in Sweden; and people born in Sweden who have moved abroad.

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