"This status thing could help connect people to those who weren’t there. It wasn’t just about sharing what kind of music you were listening to or where you were at that moment; it was about connecting people and making them feel less alone."
I am cleaning out some really old magazines piled up on my book case, magazines I never read, but stashed away for when I had more time. (Don’t judge me.) As I finished Hatching Twitter, I picked up the March 2008 issue of Inc. magazine. On the cover is a bright orange circle with the question: “Twitter – Total brilliance or utter nonsense?”
Fast-forward six years and almost 3000 Tweets later and I’m still not sure I can answer that question. Even my own Tweets have included a little of both the brilliance and the nonsense.
How did I come by this simple 140-character publishing tool I now take for granted? That’s the question answered in Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton. After reading it, I won’t take Twitter for granted anymore.
Hatching Twitter, as the subtitle says, is “A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal”. It is laced with the F-word, dripping with unexpected and even accidental influence and filled with smart, lonely people.
I had no idea the turmoil that gave flight to the little blue Twitter bird when I sent my first Tweet back in 2008: “@ScottReavely: Teething from my new iPhone!” (Yes, “teething”, true story! Apple auto-correct did not recognize “Tweeting”!)
The Big Idea
"Some people are destined for greatness; others fall up a hill to get there."
I expected to read about coding geniuses. And, I did. I expected to learn about strategic decisions that lead to greatness. I did. I thought the book would be about technology and business. But it was about people. After all, what is technology and what is business, if they don’t have to do with people!
I was surprised to learn Twitter came from some of the same people that fostered Blogger, a technology I’d used even before I tried Twitter. Evan Williams sold Blogger to Google and invested in Odeo where he met Noah Glass. They hired Jack Dorsey, Dick Costolo and others. Odeo eventually went to the great recycling bin in the sky, as did a majority of tech startups in Silicon Valley.
What continued, though, were the people and their friendships, their strengths and weaknesses, their weekend parties, and their inescapable loneliness.
Technology shortens distance between people
"This status idea could be the antidote to all of this, a cure for feeling lonely..."
Twitter was created to speak to and hear from friends that were separated by space and time. Clunky at first, it was used to talk about what someone was having for lunch, what music they were listening to, what party they were attending, and who they were doing it with.
It evolved into much more than that. It shortened the distance between people and what was happening around the world. Whether it was an Oprah Show, the Pope or an Iranian revolution, Twitter proved an effective tool at shortening the distance between people and the world around them.
Speaking of distance, the author ends the book with a story about Tweeting from the international space station. Commander Hadfield wrote:“Loneliness is not so much where you are, but instead is your state of mind.”
Don’t hire your friends
""Ev also reasoned that his friends would never betray him.""
The subtitle of the book states that it will be about friendship and betrayal. And it is. Creating something world-changing is a crucible for forging deep friendships, but the heat also tears them apart.
I’d make the same mistakes, I’m sure, of hiring my friends. I’d want to surround myself with people who believe in me, who believe in what I’m doing. What is a friend if not someone who believes in you?
If I could, I would want to be generous with my friends and find ways to share my success, so I’d hire them to be part of my new start-up. I wouldn’t even think twice.
Yet, the story of Twitter is a story of the loss and the betrayal of friendships. Some of the friends were hired for jobs they weren’t right for and the relationship died a slow death. Others were right, but had conflict over direction of the company, which exploded in betrayal. And, some friends stuck together.
Over 100 times, Hatching Twitter references friends or friendships. This is more than a tacit admission that in the end, technology will come and go, but people matter. People, not things, give meaning to life.
Having said that, I would love to end this summary some other way.
Part of the drama behind the scenes came from the divergent visions for Twitter. For Jack, it was “What are you doing?” A very personal, status update one might write about himself. For Ev, it was, “What’s happening?” A newsy update on the world around you.
Both of these visions converged for me on Sunday night. I saw a Tweet from someone I didn’t know that said something about a car accident in my town. I looked for news sources that might have news…silence. I turned back to Twitter as tweet after tweet carried the hashtag, #PrayforMaddi. Maddi was a beautiful 17 year-old who played softball with my daughter. My only news source that night was Twitter.
I learned from Twitter the next day that Maddi had passed away. So, “What’s happening?” and “What are you doing?” … “@ScottReavely: Hugging my daughter!”