Ping-Ko Chiu

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Software Engineer,
Location Technologies @ Apple
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12 May 2022

Hatching Twitter

by Ping-Ko Chiu

— Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

A story of the birth of Twitter. I came across this book after having enjoyed Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin. The timing coincided with the recent Elon Musk hostile takeover of Twitter. It seemed like a good choice given the recent narrative around the company.

While I have never used Twitter myself, I have at least heard it in the news in bits and pieces over the past decade or so. The company seemed to have evolved over the years and changed its policies on the types of speech that is allowed on its platform many times. The company has curbed political misinformation, banned Trump, and banned Russian accounts during the invasion of Ukraine. All this was called into question again during Musk’s takeover where he criticized the platforms existing policies.

It seemed the founding of Twitter wasnt based on a solid foundation of the utilities and values of the platform to begin with. Hatching Twitter depicts the turbulent early years of Twitter where founders and CEOs were forcibly ousted and where the leaders couldn’t agree on the utility or the culture of the platform. Ev thought of the platform as a place where people record whats happening in the world whereas Jack considered the platform a place where people shared their status. Big tech firms like yahoo and facebook wanted to acquire it and make it their own. Al Gore wanted to invest and collaborate to make an interactive news platform powered by twitter. Celebrities wanted to join and harness the social powers of the platform. Some wanted the platform to be politically neutral while others saw the potential in engaging with politicians to encourage political discourse. The company seemed to have been pulled in all directions while the tech was playing catchup to the explosive growth of the platform.

The book also goes to show how unstable and fleeting a position of power is at the early Twitter. Noah Glass, one of the early figures that was involved and came up with the name “Twitter” was completely erased from the founding stories. Jack, the first CEO, who was the first to come up with the idea of the status updater, was ousted after a few months and was “promoted” to a non-functioning board seat with no visibility into the day to day operations. Ev, the majority stake holder at the time, was ousted even after Twitter started to make revenue and underwent a redesign under his leadership. New leaders that took up the throne consolidated power and rendered the old crew redundant and powerless.

tags: Book