Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Hatching Twitter
"Hashtags are for nerds," Biz replied. Ev added that they were "too harsh and no one is ever going to understand them."

I have a confession to make. I have a morbid curiosity for what goes on behind some of the most popular technological companies out there. I love to find out how some of their products came into being, who decided who would become the CEO, and how these companies or people got funding to build and sell their products. I don't care much for established products of yesteryears such as Microsoft, Yahoo, or Apple. But dish me some of the sordid stories from Google, Facebook, or Twitter and I'll probably be all ears. I guess some of that interest comes from being a programmer myself but it's fascinating to learn how an everyday programmer, the likes of whom I see everyday at work, would build something that the world would just adopt heavily.

Still, none of that eagerness nor watching (and being shocked by) The Social Network prepared me for just how sordid a background Twitter has. Seriously, I'm surprised that such a discordant company led by people who barely got along managed to produce a product that is used by every Tom and his neighbor.

Hatching Twitter starts at the very beginning - with Blogger's creation. Evan "Ev" Williams developed what would become Blogger and it wasn't soon before it was bought by Google. After a brief stint at Google, he left the company and started a podcasting company called Odeo along with his neighbor Noah Glass. Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone joined shortly, along with several others who would be part of this group for a long time to come. Although they were officially building a podcast product (though that term was not yet in the mainstream), unofficially an idea to share status messages with other people in an SMS-like manner was taking hold among them. Jack Dorsey came up with the idea first, and soon they put together a very early version of Twitter. Then they sat waiting for people to sign up.

Except, it didn't get anywhere.

It isn't until months later that Twitter began to make a tiny name for itself at a time when startups were all the craze.

I found Hatching Twitter immensely fascinating. These founders are clearly very intelligent, but most of them were also very introverted or socially awkward. Twitter was a big part of who they wanted to be. As Noah often said, Twitter was where he could make lots of friends and not feel too alone, as he often did in real life. These guys bonded with each other easily, but some of them were quick to back-stab someone if it meant getting a leg up in the small Twitter corporate ladder. Jack and Ev abhorred confrontation and many a problem at Twitter could be blamed at their hesitation to address issues constructively.

Over time, Twitter's leadership changed hands quickly and people were getting fired. Jack Dorsey was made CEO first since Twitter was his idea after all. Noah Glass was fired from the company even though he was a big part of the company. When Jack wasn't fixing problems but trying to make new plans for Twitter, the board fired him and made Ev the CEO. The board would later do the same thing to Ev and make Dick Costolo the CEO. There were times I wanted to gouge my ears out - this company was filled with people who didn't know how to solve problems! Unfortunately, that's the story of many corporate companies.

If only the story ended there.

Just as in fiction, Jack comes back to get his revenge on Ev for firing him. He seemed to be playing some mental chess where he moved his pieces (the people influencing Twitter) around and managed to get back on top. At least, this is what the author says and after doing a fair bit of research since, this does seem to be true. Amidst all this betrayal and poor sportsmanship at Twitter, Noah's is certainly the saddest tale of all. He had a very effusive personality and was often a difficult personality to handle, but I got the feeling that he was also the only genuine person working at Twitter. Being fired from the one company he poured his soul into hit him too hard, so much that he has mostly disappeared from social media.

There were some interesting mentions that most of us users were a part of. Remember the #failwhale that used to grace the page of Twitter every so often? The #failwhale is also a big part of the book. I was amazed to learn that Twitter's failwhale woes hung around for years. I joined Twitter in early 2010 and even then it was the one page I ran into more times than any other. The #failwhale is also one prime reason for both Jack and Ev to get fired. Another interesting detail was that the Twitter founders didn't care for the hashtag. They considered it too technical and didn't think users would ever understand how to use them. Programmers do need to get down from their high horse and give people more credit.


This audiobook is from my personal library.

8 comments:

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

Oh boy, does this ever sound fascinating!

Trish said...

Oooooh, it is tough to avoid juicy gossip, isn't it? I've been hearing raves about this one and I bet that it would be a great conversation piece. I'll have to see if my library has an audio copy.

ebookclassics said...

I have a similar curiosity about these kind of things too and this book sounds fascinating, especially since I use Twitter almost everyday and always wonder what lies ahead for it.

literaryfeline said...

This does sound like an interesting book! I find histories such as these interesting too, although I haven't read any (nor have I seen The Social Network).

Kim Ukura said...

This sounds super interesting! I was curious about it when it first came out, but never got around to trying to find it at the library. I love that it sounds dishy and interesting (I love the detail about hashtags).

Nishita said...

This sounds very interesting and very soap-operaish. I am not so sure that I want to check it out though. There are enough office politics in real life, for me to want to read about it in books.

Lisa Sheppard said...

So sorry, now, that I didn't grab this one up when it was offered to me for review. Definitely sounds like it was well worth the read!

Gwen said...

Hey, I like #hashtags, didn't at first, but they add what is that French phrase?....je ne sais quoi. They are like little last minute jokes that let other know how you really feel. I am over the brand and event hashtags, you aren't paying me to do your job little miss marketing person, so let's have you do it. Now I want this!