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Twitter users often find it quite difficult to explain the social network’s importance to non-Twitter addicts. In most places, my bio reads: “tweets with alarming regularity” — I can never explain why I do but somewhere inside I understand that I must.
That’s what Twitter is really, something that’s intrinsically part of our lives, and that we’ve actually chosen to put there. It found its way into our world and it refuses to leave.
The case for Twitter can be made for brands, but it was never a platform built for them. It was built for people and even the founders, it seems, can’t truly articulate the service at a core level. In an interesting tell-all read by New York Times’ tech writer Nick Bilton, the story of Twitter reads more like a Hollywood partnership gone wrong.
The New York Times writer’s book Hatching Twitter has caused a lot of online chatter, since bits of it started floating around a little while back. No doubt its breakout villain is the beloved Jack Dorsey who, in the book, is stripped of all the glamour and allure that the media has come to worship.
Bilton’s account of the birthing of Twitter takes the reader behind the velvet rope into a world of deceit, betrayal and a struggle for power. The four co-founders seem to have spent a great deal of their time deciding who should lead and who should be run out of the company. At the end of the day three were ousted and one completely deleted from Twitter’s history and while the other three still have ties to the company, they don’t have much to do by way of running it.
A story of Ev, Biz, Noah and Jack
Twitter’s origins lie in loneliness and a desperate need to connect with the world and people. The company’s founders comprised shrewd business man in Ev Williams, a moral compass in Biz Stone, a creative genius in Noah Glass (later to be ousted without recognition) and a calculating wannabe in Jack Dorsey.
My favourite scene in this book is no doubt Stone and Williams talking about Dorsey’s media wooing.
“We need to talk,” Stone tells Williams in the book’s most telling moment. “Jack’s gone rogue.” What the two co-founders are referring to is Dorsey’s non-stop media lobbying shaping the story of Twitter to place himself as its sole founder.
“But I invented Twitter,” Dorsey said when cautioned about his media antics.
“No you didn’t invent Twitter” Williams responded. “I didn’t invent it either. Neither did Biz. People don’t invent things on the internet. They simply expand on an idea that already exists.”
This was true, in actual fact the idea for Twitter came to Dorsey because he liked a girl and she asked him to text her.
“What’s a text?”, he had asked.
There the seeds of the original idea was born — a way to share statuses — but it was Noah Glass, the biggest loser of the Twitter power battles, who gave us some of the core things we have come to love about the platform. He gave it its name, time-stamping and the ability to connect with people around the world.
The biggest success that Twitter enjoys now, helping share the news and what is happening around the would can in fact be credited to Stone, who insisted on protecting the audience, its political neutrality and protection of free speech.
Dorsey therefore had to go so Williams, who had sold Blogger to Google, could reign as king.
While Williams was trying to run the company as a business, Dorsey who had just been recently ousted, was creating his new persona as the next Steve Jobs, a crusade he’s carried out pretty successfully so far.
Today Twitter boasts 300-million active users from around the world. It’s a success in spite of its founders bickering and high schoolesque antics. While they were busy telling tales and finding ways muscle each other out the company, the users were busy creating a formidable platform that would become a crucial part of modern history. Twitter seems to have survived a lot, possible acquisition from Facebook and Al Gore and its co-founders.
Bilton is a great storyteller who takes us into Twitter’s boardroom recreating every scene with careful craftsmanship and each delicious morsel is even more appetizing than the next. The events of Twitter’s early days can be likened to a train wreck, horrible but impossible to look away from.
Twitter did irreparable damage to its founders, friendships wrecked and business relations tarnished — building Twitter may very well be the single most heartbreaking experience for everyone involved.