Hatching Twitter [Review]

Hatching Twitter is the story of how a group of ragtag outsiders came together to build a service that would change the world. Over the last couple of years, Twitter has evolved from a fledgling startup to become one of the most transformational forms of communication the world has ever known. From overthrowing dictators to instantly breaking world news, Twitter has made the real time Internet a reality through 140 character updates.

Hatching Twitter is written by Nick Bilton, a columnist at The New York Times and is based upon hours of research, interviews, emails and documents from the characters who played pivotal roles in building Twitter from the early days.

The story revolves around the interrelationships of the founders of Twitter, Noah Glass, Ev Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone with cameo appearances from influential contributors Jason Goldman, Dick Costelo, Fred Wilson and Bijan Sabet.

A chance beginning

The story of Twitter really begins years before the first line of code was ever written. Ev Williams had travelled from Nebraska to San Francisco to become part of the brave new world of the Internet. Along the way he had started a company called Blogger which would become the pinup for the impending explosion of online blogging.

Google acquired Blogger after Ev had resurrected the company from the dot com crash, but inside the Googleplex, Blogger was never a high priority and so Ev ended up leaving the search giant after just a couple of years.

With his new found celebrity status in the San Francisco ecosystem and the financial resources from the acquisition of Blogger, Ev decided to start a second company with his friend Noah Glass. The company would be Odeo, the podcasting equivalent to Blogger.

Despite Ev’s fame and the financial resources they had, Odeo was never going to be a success. When it became clear that things weren’t working out, Ev asked the Odeo employees to see if they could come up with a new idea to work on.

It was after a drunken night of Vodka, Redbull and dancing that Noah and Odeo developer Jack Dorsey started to talk about the idea of the status update. Updating a status was by no means a new thing, but had never been focused upon within a single service. Jack saw it as a way of finding out what was going on in the world whilst Noah saw it as a way to connect with others and prevent the loneliness he was struggling with.

After many conversations, the first version of the service would be built. Noah found the name whilst browsing a dictionary and Jack would be the leader of this new fledgling idea.

Growing pains

It wasn’t long before Twitter started to take off. Ev had bought the original Odeo investors out so he could close down the company. It was Ev who was supporting Twitter financially, but it was Jack who was running the show.

Jack had never been a manager before Odea. He was a developer and an aspiring artist, not someone who had the experience of running a company that was growing at breakneck speed.

Under Jack’s leadership, Twitter had exponential growth but also so many problems it really is a surprise that the company did not implode. The “Fail Whale” become synonymous with the company and so it became clear that Jack was not the right person to lead Twitter.

The Twitter board of Fred, Bijan and Ev decided that Jack should be removed from the CEO role and be given a silent board seat to save face. Ev would be the new Twitter CEO but this would be the first step towards a bitter leadership rivalry between Ev and Jack.

Rivalry

Under Ev’s leadership Twitter continued to grow at breakneck speed. The service was being recognised outside the early adopted groups of the technology crowd and was becoming the latest hot online service. Twitter would be used in presidential races, to organise riots and by a wave of celebrities and media organisations who helped bring the service to the mass market.

Despite the change of leadership, Twitter was still suffering from it’s own success. The technology of the service could not keep up with it’s growth and so it was still plagued with outages and the ever-present Fail Whale.

Jack had never accepted that he had been ousted as the CEO of the company he believed he founded and so for years he jumped on every opportunity to tell the media that he had been the inventor of the Twitter. Jack had also been plotting his return to Twitter and so it would only be a matter of time before he made his move.

Despite Twitter’s continued growth, the Twitter board believed Ev was a flawed leader. Ev would delay making decisions and would continue to hire his friends for important roles in the company. Under Jack’s orchestration, it was decided that Ev should step down as CEO with current COO, and Ev’s friend, Dick Costelo stepping up to be the interim CEO in his place.

The move would also see Jack’s return to the company as Ev stepped aside. Jack believed he was making a spiritual return to the company he had founded and had started to portray himself as the second coming of Steve Jobs.

Growing up

Under Dick Costelo’s leadership Twitter finally started to grow up. Dick was more of an operational experienced CEO after previously founding FeedBurner and selling it to Google. Dick put in place management structure, solved the technology woes and finally would start to monetise Twitter’s vast network. In 2013 Twitter would become a publicly traded company under Dick’s watch.

Through the experience of running Twitter together, each of the founders also went through radical change. Ev Williams rebooted the Obvious Corporation with Biz and Goldman and Jack would become the influential and charismatic CEO of Square.

Conclusion

Hatching Twitter is very much along the same lines as The Accidental Billionaires, the story in which The Social Network was based upon. Bitter rivalry, extreme highs and lows and the fast paced flow of building something that is changing the world. It is therefore no surprise that the book has been optioned for a TV development.

However I think one of the most important lessons from Hatching Twitter is the passion that each of the characters exuded for the service they had built. Each of the characters go through a journey of trials, tribulations and hard lessons as they grow from relative unknowns to the faces of this online revolution.

During the Odeo years, each of the characters were struggling in their own way. Jack had not found his calling, Ev was feeling the weight of expectation, Biz was financially broken after following his heart rather than his pocket, Noah was suffering from loneliness.

Through building Twitter together, each of the characters found solace in the service despite the arguments, rivalry and backstabbing. Each of them loved Twitter and had a vision for what they thought it would become. One of the beautiful things about Twitter is that it can be whatever you want it to be. I think the vision, love and passion of each of these characters can still be felt in the company today.

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Hatching Twitter [Review]
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