For all of the vitriol spewing from the thumbs of Beliebers and unfortunate typos from advisors to President Obama, Twitter has proven to be an incredibly useful if not addicting social media tool for people who prefer to get their news as it happens, as opposed to days later from the mouth of an anchor on a cable news network.
But, the original idea for Twitter wasn't necessarily to expedite the sharing of news and ideas. Originally, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey had an idea for a site that would allow user to share the most mundane details of their lives. Laundry. Going to the park. Heading to bed.
He shared the idea with Odeo co-founder Noah Glass as the two were coming down off a Red Bull/vodka binge and a dream was born.
One night in late February 2006, around 2 a.m., Dorsey sat in Glass’s parked car as rain poured down on the windshield. The two were sobering up after a night of drinking vodka and Red Bull, but the conversation, as usual, was about Odeo. Dorsey blurted out that he was planning his exit strategy. “I’m going to quit tech and become a fashion designer,” Glass recalls him saying. He also wanted to sail around the world. Glass pushed back: He couldn’t really want to leave the business entirely, could he? “Tell me what else you’re interested in,” he said. Dorsey mentioned a Web site that people could use to share their current status — the music they were listening to or where they were. Dorsey envisioned that people would use it to broadcast the simplest details about themselves — like “going to park,” “in bed” and so forth.
Glass had heard Dorsey’s status idea before, and he was unimpressed. It didn’t seem like much of a leap from the “away messages” that people had been posting on AOL Instant Messenger for nearly a decade. Also, Glass thought the idea sounded too similar to other start-ups, including a service called Dodgeball, which let people use their mobile phones to share their current locations with a note attached.
As he listened to Dorsey talk, Glass would later recall, he stared out the window, thinking about his failing marriage and how alone he felt. Then he had an epiphany. This status thing wasn’t just about sharing what kind of music you were listening to or where you were, he thought. It could be a conversation. It wasn’t about reporting; it was about connecting. There could be a real business in that. He would certainly like such a service: his nights alone in his apartment, alone in his office, alone in his car, could feel less alone with a steady stream of conversation percolating online. The two brainstormed for a while longer, and as Dorsey staggered out of the car to go home, Glass said, “Let’s talk to Ev and the others about it tomorrow.”
Nick Bilton's forthcoming book, Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, details the origin of the social media site that serves as a seemingly infinite support group for Breaking Bad fans, a crowdsourced news platform in the wake of national tragedy, and the easiest way to share kitten GIFs.
A portion of Bilton's book has been adapted for a piece in The New York Times and it includes this gem about the time that Al Gore used wine and Patrón to try to ply Twitter's founders into selling the company.
Al Gore pitched Williams and Stone one night over copious amounts of wine and Patron tequila at his St. Regis suite in San Francisco. Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, approached Williams during a private dinner at Bill Gates’s home.
Twitter's story and Bilton's excerpt in the Times isn't exactly unusual in 2013, as genius developers clash with venture capitalists in a race to own the biggest yacht. But, friends and co-workers undermining and backstabbing in a race to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will never be an uninteresting read. It's worth 10 minutes of your afternoon. [New York Times]