On July 15, 2006, the San Francisco-based podcasting company Odeo officially releases Twttr—later changed to Twitter—its short messaging service (SMS) for groups, to the public.
Born as a side project apart from Odeo’s main podcasting platform, the free application allowed users to share short status updates with groups of friends by sending one text message to a single number (“40404”). Over the next few years, as Twttr became Twitter, the simple “microblogging” service would explode in popularity, becoming one of the world’s leading social networking platforms.
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams first made his name in the Silicon Valley tech world by founding the Web diary-publishing service Blogger, which he sold to Google in 2003 for several million dollars. In 2005, William co-founded Odeo with another entrepreneur, Noah Glass; that fall, however, Odeo’s main service was made obsolete when Apple launched iTunes (including a built-in podcasting platform).
After Williams asked the team of 14 employees to brainstorm their best ideas for the flailing startup, one of the company’s engineers, Jack Dorsey, came up with the concept of a service allowing users to share personal status updates via SMS to groups of people. By March 2006, they had a working prototype, and a name—Twttr—inspired in part by bird sounds, and adopted after some other choices (including FriendStalker) were rejected. Dorsey (@Jack) sent the first-ever tweet (“just setting up my twttr”) on March 21.
At the time Twttr launched to the public in July 2006, it was still a side project of Odeo, while the company’s primary offering, the podcasting platform, was going nowhere. That fall, according to a report in Business Insider, Williams bought out the company’s investors, changed Odeo’s name to Obvious Corporation and fired Glass, whose role in the birth of Twitter (including coming up with its name) wouldn’t become public until years later.
Within six months after the launch, Twttr had become Twitter. Once the service went public, its founders imposed a 140-character limit for messages, based on the maximum length of text messages at the time; this was later expanded to 280 characters.
Use of Twitter exploded at the South by Southwest convention in Austin, Texas, in March 2007, when more than 60,000 tweets were sent per day, and grew rapidly from there. By 2013, the New York Times reported that the company had more than 2,000 employees and more than 200 million active users. That November, when the company went public, it was valued at just over $31 billion.
Though Twitter’s user base is much smaller than that of Facebook (which has more than 2 billion monthly active users as of 2019), it has increasingly become a source of breaking news and information, especially for younger users. The company’s prominence rose with the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, who was outspoken on Twitter throughout his campaign and has often tweeted policy decisions or other announcements during his administration. Like other social media companies, Twitter and Dorsey, its CEO, have faced pressure to police the content on the site more closely to prevent bullying, harassment and hate speech, as well as better protect its users’ privacy in a heightened political climate.
Twitter came about out as a result of both a perceived need and timing. Smartphones were relatively new when Twitter was first conceived of by inventor Jack Dorsey, who wanted to use his cellphone to send text messages to a service and have the message distributed to all his friends. At the time, most of Dorsey's friend's didn't have text-enabled cell phones and spent a lot of time on their home computers. Twitter was born of a need to enable text messaging to have a cross-platform capacity, work on phone, computers, and other devices.
After working solo on the concept for a few years, Jack Dorsey brought his idea to the company that was then employing him as a web designer called Odeo. Odeo had been started as a podcasting company by Noah Glass and others, however, Apple Computers had launched a podcasting platform called iTunes that was to dominate the market, making podcasting a poor choice as a venture for Odeo.
Jack Dorsey brought his new ideas to Noah Glass and convinced Glass of its do-ability. In February 2006, Glass and Dorsey (along with developer Florian Weber) presented the project to the company. The project, initially called Twttr (named by Noah Glass), was "a system where you could send a text to one number and it would be broadcasted out to all your desired contacts".
The Twttr project got the green light by Odeo and by March 2006, a working prototype was available by July 2006, the Twttr service was released to the public.
How Little 'Twitter' Became A Magnificent Money Machine
"It was an email that said, ‘We have to move really, really fast. There's no time to rest because we have a massive opportunity in front of us," recalled Anamitra Banerji, who headed the team that built Twitter's first advertising product. "It was kind of crazy because we were all on break, but that attitude was exactly what we needed at Twitter."
The company is now on the verge of fulfilling the opportunity Costolo foresaw as it prepares for the most highly anticipated initial public offering since Facebook's debut last May. The offering is expected to value Twitter at up to $15 billion and make its early investors, including Costolo, very wealthy indeed.
Yet Twitter's quick transformation from an undisciplined, money-losing startup into a digital media powerhouse took every bit of whip-cracking that Costolo could muster, along with a rapid series of product and personnel decisions that proved effective even as they disappointed some of the service's early enthusiasts.
Costolo was a comparative late-comer at Twitter, joining the company three years after it's 2006 launch, but the company increasingly bears his imprint as it hurtles towards the IPO: deliberate in decision-making but aggressive in execution, savvy in its public relations and yet laser-focused on financial results.
Costolo has not flinched in pruning and reshaping his management team, while Twitter, the company, has been ruthless in cutting off the smaller companies that were once a part of its orbit. A one-time comic actor who cut his teeth in business at Andersen Consulting before starting several companies, Costolo may never be as closely associated with Twitter as Mark Zuckerberg is with Facebook, yet he is arguably just as important.
"The founders consider Dick a co-founder, that's how deep the connection is," said Bijan Sabet, an investor at Spark Capital and a Twitter board member from 2008 to 2011. "He's not this hired gun to run the company. He understands building out the business but also the product, strategy, vision."
Twitter declined to make Costolo available for comment, citing the pre-IPO quiet period.
BIRTH OF THE PROMOTED TWEET
When Twitter's then-CEO Evan Williams brought on Costolo, an old friend and colleague from Google Inc, as COO in September of 2009, the three-year old company was already under pressure.
The microblogging service was gaining hip, young users at an unprecedented pace, and its trio of co-founders - Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey - had been splashed across magazine covers as the embodiment of San Francisco cool. Yet the whispers in Silicon Valley were growing louder: Twitter didn't have the technical chops to make the service reliable at huge scale, and it didn't have any way to make money.
"Having been on the core original team of engineers, we didn't have the skills among us to build a world class service," said Alex Payne, an early Twitter engineer, noting that many of the team members came from smaller start-ups and non-profit organizations rather than established Web giants like Google.
Williams viewed fixing the site's notorious technical problems as the top priority but was ambivalent about the business strategy. For months, people familiar with the situation say, Williams weighed options ranging from display advertising to licensing Twitter's data to becoming an e-commerce hub to offering paid "commercial" accounts to businesses.
Costolo - who had sold Feedburner, an advertising-based blog publishing service he founded, to Google for $100 million - had no such doubts. By his second month on the job, he had helped persuade Williams to green-light engineering positions to build Twitter's first ad unit, which would become the "promoted tweet" - the cornerstone of Twitter's business today.
"Dick's conversations with Ev were key," said Banerji, now an investor at Foundation Capital. "He had a fundamental belief that this was the future of Twitter monetization and said, 'You have to do it.'"
Over four months in early 2010, Costolo, working closely with Banerji and Ashish Goel, a Stanford engineering professor who specialized in the science of auction algorithms, to refine the promoted tweet. It resembled an ordinary Twitter message in every way, except that advertisers could pay for it to appear at the top of users' Tweet streams and search results.
Costolo threw his heft within the company behind the advertising strategy. In early 2010, as the ads team drew up a related product called "promoted trends," Costolo privately told them to make sure he was in the room when they pitched the product to Williams, so it would get pushed through.
A central mechanism governing the promoted tweet was "resonance," a concept coined by Goel. Because Twitter users can re-circulate or reply to tweets, including paid advertisements, the company had the real-time ability to gauge which ads were most popular, and those ads could then be made more prominent. And because the ads appeared in the same format as other tweets, they were perfectly suited to mobile devices, which could not handily display traditional banner ads.
Paid ads that are inserted into a stream of status updates have since become something of an industry standard for mobile advertising. Its adopters include Facebook, which has enjoyed a 60 percent rise in its stock price in recent months due to its newfound success in mobile.
"The closest thing before this was the contextual advertising that Google was selling, but the problem was that it was clearly an ad," said Charlene Li, the founder of Altimeter Group, an online research and consulting firm. "Promoted tweets look just like every other tweet. The form factor, the way it is displayed in stream - that was a breakthrough."
When Costolo unveiled the promoted tweet in April 2010, Twitter announced it as a trial for only five brands, including Starbucks Corp and Virgin America, and users almost never saw the ads.
But by the summer of 2010, Costolo felt confident enough in his concept that he began seeking a deputy to ramp up the company's sales effort. For months, he courted Adam Bain, a rising star at News Corp, and at the same time began assiduously courting marketers, from corner suites on Madison Avenue to industry conferences on the French Riviera.
Under Bain, the Twitter ad team set it sites on the most lucrative advertising market of all: television. Twitter attached itself to TV programmers and major brand marketers by positioning itself as an online peanut gallery where TV viewers could discuss what they were watching.
"Hashtags," which help people find the conversations they're looking for on Twitter, soon grew ubiquitous on TV, appearing in Super Bowl commercials, at Nascar races and on the Oscars red carpet.
"It wasn't easy for Twitter to explain to people why they should buy content on Twitter until they sold it as a companion to TV," Ian Schafer, the chief executive of Deep Focus, a digital advertising agency. "Now you're even seeing the networks selling Twitter's inventory for them. That's magic."
Twitter has steadily refined its targeting capabilities and can now send promoted tweets to people based on geographic location and interests. This month, the company paid more than $300 million to acquire MoPub, which will enable it to target mobile users based on websites they have visited on their desktop computers.
As the promoted Tweet became a reliable revenue engine -generating a substantial chunk of the estimated $580 million in ad sales the company is expected to earn this year - Twitter began to evolve the service beyond its 140-character text messaging roots. Tweets today can embed pictures, videos, page previews and are expected to eventually have more interactive features, including those for online transactions and deals.
While Costolo has been widely credited with bringing management stability to a company that had struggled to find the right leadership formula among its three founders, he hasn't hesitated in making changes in the executive suite.
"Jack always said he ‘edited' his team, and Dick looked at it the same way," said a former employee. "He wanted to choose the top people around him, but he was ruthless with replacing his top people."
Bain and Ali Rowghani, Twitter's influential chief operating officer, have emerged as Costolo's key deputies. A string of recent high-profile hires includes former TicketMaster CEO Nathan Hubbard as head of commerce Geoff Reiss, former Professional Bowlers Association CEO, as head of sports partnerships and Morgan Stanley executive Cynthia Gaylor as head of corporate development.
Meanwhile, once-powerful executives including product guru Satya Patel, engineering vice president Mike Abbott and head of growth Othman Laraki have left the company, with each departure stoking chatter about Twitter's unusual rate of employee turnover.
Rank-and-file employees described a chief executive who will pause from his workday to laugh with them at YouTube clips but who will also nudge them to put in long hours.
At a conference last fall, Costolo told the audience he had sought out a new office for Twitter in central San Francisco partly because it would allow employees who lived in the city to go home for dinner with their families and still come back to work at night.
Despite his on-stage charisma, several employees describe a CEO who can seem aloof.
"He's always very cordial," said one former employee. "But try to get into a deeper conversation with him, and he's thinking about how much time he has to do that, because his schedule is tight and he has a lot to do. He's all business."
Costolo's single-minded focus on Twitter's business goals has not been welcomed by everyone. It alienated many early Twitter enthusiasts who were interested in the political, social and technical potential of a unique new service that could fairly claim to express the sentiment of the world in real time.
Twitter has slowly shut off third-party access to its data, preferring to keep the information for its own business purposes. It has cut off many developers that want to build new features that would interact with the Twitter platform.
Its status as the most aggressive of all the global Internet companies in defending free speech and protecting its users from government spying is also in question. After years of essentially ignoring foreign governments that wanted it to comply with local laws, it announced last year that it had developed the technical capability to block Tweets by country, and it has recently begun to use it in countries including Germany and Brazil.
Twitter is currently banned in China, where the country's own Twitter-like service, Sina Corp's Weibo, has 500 million registered users.
"The most obvious effect of the IPO will be that it will push Twitter to go more international," said Jillian York, the director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"I don't think there's much evidence that their position on free speech has softened in the U.S, but internationally, yes. I think they've absolutely run into the complexities of opening offices in other countries, potentially even made some promises that they couldn't keep."
Yet Costolo has clearly kept his biggest promise: turning Twitter into a major media business. And in that regard, the IPO may be just the beginning.
Twitter's Abridged TimelineMarch 2006: Jack Dorsey creates Twitter. On March 21, he publishes the first tweet ever, which says, “just setting up my twttr.” July 2006: The microblogging service officially launches to the public on July 15. Later this month, co-founder Biz Stone explains what Twitter is in a hilarious video on YouTube. April 2007: The Twitter service becomes its own company. March 2008: Twitter turns 2. October 2008: Dorsey steps down as CEO to assume a less-intensive role as chairman of the board co-founder Evan Williams replaces Dorsey. November 2008: Twitter passes 1 billion tweet mark. March 2009: Twitter turns 3 on the heels of a Nielsen Online report indicating Twitter grew 1,382% year-over-year. June 2009: AP Stylebook adds Twitter terms, and concerns over Twitter's flatlining growth emerge. July 2009: Twitter earns spot in Collins English Dictionary as a noun and a verb. September 2009: Twitter changes default avatar to a picture of a bird. October 2009: Twitter passes the 5 billion tweet mark. January 2010: NASA astronaut T. J. Creamer sends the first unassisted tweet from space aboard the International Space Station. February 2010: Users start clocking in more than 50 million tweets per day. March 2010: Twitter turns 4. April 2010: Twitter’s advertising platform, Promoted Tweets, goes live (see video below). June 2010: Twitter users set a new record for tweets per second -- 3,085 -- during Game 7 of the NBA playoffs between the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics. That record was short-lived though, as users broke it later in the month with 3,283 tweets per second at the end of the World Cup match between Japan and Denmark. Twitter rolls out new ads in trending topics section. July 2010: Twitter search results begin showing people, too. Furthermore, Twitter starts offering personalized suggestions of users to follow with a feature called "Suggestions for You." August 2010: Twitter launches the “Tweet Button,” an official option for web publishers to count retweets and let their readers easily share content (see video below). Twitter surpasses MySpace in number of unique monthly visitors. Between August 2009 and August 2010, Twitter grew 76% to 96 million unique visitors, while MySpace dropped 17% to 94 million. September 2010: Twitter begins rolling out the new Twitter.com web interface, adding new ways to embed multimedia into the stream (see video below). Twitter changes the default avatar picture to a drawing of an egg. October 2010: Twitter co-founder Williams steps down as CEO, handing the title over to COO Dick Costolo. January 2011: eMarketer predicts Twitter will triple its advertising revenue to $150 million in 2011. Twitter users in Japan set a new record for tweets per second — almost 7,000 — in the moments just after the country entered the year 2011. Twitter put together this cool map visualization that shows activity spreading west, from time zone to time zone, as each new region welcomes the new year. February 2011: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak steps down amid a groundbreaking digital revolution in which Twitter played a much-debated role. Users, among other methods, put hashtags #Jan25 and #Egypt in their tweets. Rumors swirl about whether Google or Facebook will buy Twitter for as much as $10 billion. March 2011: Twitter turns 5 and sees the return of Twitter inventor and co-founder Dorsey, who officially comes back to the company as executive chairman. Also, Sharespost values Twitter at $7.7 billion. April 2011: Twitter introduces a new version of its homepage with a sleeker design and revamped pitch to potential users expands its Local Trends feature to 70 more cities and countries and updates its search tool to make it easier to find new people to follow. Talks about Twitter's future intensify as CNN reported UberMedia -- the company behind UberSocial, Echofon and Twidroyd -- is "outlining plans" to develop a Twitter-like competitor. May 2011 (as of May 4): Twitter use ramps up on May 1 with speculation and subsequent confirmation of terrorist Osama bin Laden's death. At one point that night, Twitter records 5,106 tweets per second, which is the third highest tweets-per-second tally behind only numbers registered during New Year's Eve 2011 in Japan and the destructive tsunami there in March. Reports of Twitter's TweetDeck acquisition surface, saying an announcement about the much-rumored deal may be made in a few days.
Twitter introduces a new, fully rebuilt developer API, launching next week
Twitter is still recovering from the fallout of yesterday’s sizable attack on high-profile accounts, but it’s continuing to move forward with its plans to roll out a new version of its developer API. Today, the company is announcing its new Twitter API v2, rebuilt from the ground up. The new foundation, which has been rebuilt for the first time since 2012, includes features that were missing from the earlier API, like conversation threading, poll results in tweets, pinned tweets, spam filtering and more powerful stream filtering and search query language. It has also been designed in a way that will allow Twitter to release new functionality faster than in years past, the company claims.
Though Twitter says it has no evidence that yesterday’s security incident had anything to do with its API, actually turning it on today, as was planned, had to take a backseat to its focus on making sure Twitter and its accounts are safe and secure. The company plans to now roll out API v2 and other content, like its new support center, documentation and other blog posts with details sometime next week.
Twitter’s API v2 will introduce multiple access levels, to replace the earlier three-tiered system in the current API (v1.1).
Today, Twitter’s API is separated into three platforms: Standard (free), Premium (self-serve paid) and Enterprise. But this has made it difficult for developers to migrate from one tier to another. The new API will eventually — and fully — replace all three, and will instead serve all users across three different product tracks, designed to accommodate different groups of developers. These tracks include the Standard track, which is launching today, while the Business and Academic/Research tracks will arrive soon. Within each track there will also be Basic, Elevated or Custom access levels available.
“We definitely know that one size does not fit all, and we wanted to make it easier for more developers to be successful building with us,” explains Twitter Developer Platform product head, Ian Cairns. One of those tracks will always be free, he added. “Twitter exists to serve the public conversation, and keeping a free, open API is really important to us,” he said.
The Standard track’s Basic access level will always be free, Twitter says, and is designed for developers just starting out.
Image Credits: Twitter
The company hasn’t finalized its pricing for other tiers but says through its conversations with developers, it has come to understand how its pricing and its rate limit model were limiting developers, particularly researchers and those building for fun. The new pricing is expected to take different types of developer needs into consideration, and will offer free and paid tiers within the Elevated level within the Academic Research track.
The Standard product track could enable common Twitter tools, utilities and fun bots, like BlockParty, TweetDelete, Tokimeki Unfollow, HAM: Drawings bot, Hansard House of Lords bot and Emoji Mashup bot.
Image Credits: Twitter
The Business API, meanwhile, will support businesses that “serve innovative use cases,” says Twitter.
This is an area where Twitter has a complicated history, as it has in the past pulled out the rug from under the feet of developers building alternative Twitter clients and even shafted its own partners. Twitter today defines the use cases it’s aiming to support as those offering things like “social prediction of future product trends, AI-powered consumer insights, and FinTech market intelligence,” such as Black Swan, Spiketrap, and Social Market Analytics.
However, Twitter clarified in a call with press that it has spoken with the makers of third-party clients to figure out how it can better work with them in the future, and noted it’s not changing any policy related to its support right now. Those clients will also be able use the new features in v2. The company still has not said, clearly and definitively, that it has no plans to change how these businesses today operate.
Instead, Twitter explained to TechCrunch it believes these clients “deserve clarity on how to operate” with the new API. But this clarity may require Twitter to take a fresh look at its policy and product access details, Twitter said, adding it’s looking ahead to determine how to best work with this group. Given the API has been in development for more than a year, this is a disappointing answer for Twitter’s power users who prefer third-party clients, like Tweetbot, Twitterific, Echofon and others. Twitter has had plenty of time to take that “fresh look,” and has still not made a decision, it seems.
In addition, the Business API will serve Twitter Official Partners like Brandwatch, Sprinklr and Sprout Social, and Twitter’s enterprise data customers. This track in the future will include Elevated and Custom access to relevant endpoints.
The upcoming Academic/Research track, meanwhile, will allow qualified researchers to learn what’s happening in Twitter’s public conversation.
Developers are today using Twitter data to research a range of topics, like people’s attitudes about COVID-19, the social impact of floods and climate change and the prevalence of hate speech online. This will also later add Elevated and Custom access to relevant endpoints, and will be the first time Twitter has built a product tailored toward researchers’ specific needs, it says.
Of all these, only the Standard API product is ready to ship next week, with a new set of features offered for free at the Basic level. Its launch will be followed by the Academic/Research product track, and Twitter will then continue to release the new API incrementally in the months ahead. It will take some time to shift developers from v1.1 to v2, however, so Twitter’s API roadmap and documentation can help guide them as to when changes will occur.
Twitter “firehose” data (the full stream) will continue to be available only in limited partnerships, as today. Twitter says most developers don’t want this, even when they have high-data access needs, because firehose data is difficult to work with.
Image Credits: Twitter
The company says the decision to rebuild its developer platform came about because Twitter needs to more easily scale a large number of API endpoints for both planned and new functionality going forward. (Perhaps related: a Twitter job description that mentioned its plans to “build a subscription platform.” That could require a new API?)
In the current version of the API, endpoints are implemented by a large set of HTTP microservices — a decision Twitter made when it re-architectured from Ruby in 2013. This ended up creating a disjointed product where independent teams worked on their endpoints without coordinating with others.
Image Credits: Twitter
Twitter has been testing new API features for over a year as part of its Twitter Developer Labs program, a shift toward building in public. This change allowed the company to gain real-time feedback from the developer community as the product was built in the open. Developers told Twitter they wanted better documentation, access to an engaged community, a sandbox for testing, easier onboarding and other features.
Twitter specifically responded to these requests for a new developer portal, which has also been redesigned. The portal will offer an onboarding wizard to simplify getting API keys. The portal also allows developers to manage their apps, understand their API usage and limits, access a new support center, find documentation and more. Developers will additionally be able to view Twitter’s public roadmap and read through a forthcoming “Guide to the future of the Twitter API,” which arrives next week when v2 launches, for more about what to expect.
Next week, Twitter will launch “Early Access” to an initial set of new endpoints. Unlike Twitter Developer Labs, Early Access will be production-ready and fully supported. The new endpoints will allow developers to stream tweets in real time, analyze past conversations, measure Tweet performance, listen for important events and explore tweets from any account. In later weeks, Twitter will decide which other new features it may move to the API — like voice tweets or allowing only select audiences to reply to your tweets, for example.
Twitter says it will continue to share updates on v2 before deprecating any existing products.
“Our intent is to provide plenty of migration time — along with resources to help — when we deprecate existing endpoints. We know migrations can be challenging and we’re committed to doing our part to make migrating to our new API as easy as we can,” a spokesperson said.
There will be some exceptions, however. For instance, later this year, Twitter will announce a shorter deprecation window for v1.1 status/sample and statues/filter endpoints. Their replacements are rolling out next week in v2.
Developers can get started with Early Access by way of the Developer Portal, when the API v2 launches.
Twitter launches its biggest redesign in years
Ever since Twitter decided it was more of a place to find out what's going on in the world rather than just another social network, it's made quite a few changes. It invested more in live video, opened up its Moments feature to all users, ramped up its safety efforts, removed @names from replies and got rid of those egg avatars. Some of these changes have received mixed reactions, to say the least. Now, the company is ready to make another set of adjustments, and this time, the focus is on design. iOS users, especially, will get a whole new look on their Twitter app.
The main change for those on iOS is that there'll be fewer navigation tabs -- instead of five, there'll now be four. By default, those four tabs are for Home (your timeline), Search, Notifications (or Mentions) and Direct Messages. To access your profile, lists, settings and other accounts, simply swipe right to see a new side navigation menu. Those on Android are likely already familiar with this, as they saw this design change last year. But now iOS users get to enjoy it too.
Another change to the iOS app is that links to articles and websites will now open in Safari's viewer rather than the in-app web viewer. According to a Twitter spokesperson, this is so you can easily access accounts on websites you're already signed into, like if you have a New York Times subscription for example. Using the Safari view also gives you the option of using Safari Reader and you can get to use private browsing mode too if you wish.
There'll also be design changes that go beyond just the iOS app. For one thing, the reply icon has been changed from a curved arrow to a speech bubble. Apparently this is because some people thought the curved arrow meant "delete" or "go back to a previous page." The icons underneath each tweet are lighter as well. Typography will be more consistent, headlines will be bolder and profile photos will now be rounded instead of square. The reason for the round profile photos is to better distinguish them from in-line images in tweets. These design changes will be on the iOS app, Twitter.com, Twitter Lite, the Android app, as well as TweetDeck.
A particularly interesting change is that reply, retweet and like counts underneath tweets will now update in real-time right in front of your eyes. So if a tweet goes particularly viral, you'll see the retweet and like count on it go up rapidly without you having to refresh your timeline. This particular design change will only be on TweetDeck and the mobile apps it won't be on Twitter.com or Twitter Lite.
Twitter says it'll listen to feedback on these changes and it'll have more design updates soon. In the meantime, we'll continue to hold our breath for that much-requested edit button.
THE REAL HISTORY OF TWITTER
"Noah had a product where you call a phone number and it would turn your message into an MP3 hosted on the Internet. That was the technology that Noah brought that turned into Odeo," says early employee Ray McClure.
Along with Charles River Ventures and about a dozen other individuals, one of Glass' earliest investors in Odeo was a former Google employee named Evan Williams. Williams was more involved with Odeo than most investors are with startups in their portfolios, and eventually, Odeo moved from Noah's apartment to Williams'. Williams, who had recently sold a company called Blogger to Google, had just bought a nice house and wanted to put his old apartment to good use.
"I think it was something Ev was interested in, but it was mostly Noah's thing," says McClure.
"At that time, it would have been me, Evan [Henshwaw-Plath, better known by friends as "Rabble,"] and Rabble's wife Gabba. Mostly it was the four of us working out of the apartment."
By July 2005, Odeo had a product: a platform for podcasting.
But then, in the fall of 2005, "the shit hit the fan," says George Zachary, the Charles River Ventures partner who led the firm's investment in Odeo.
That was when Apple first announced iTunes would include a podcasting platform built into every one of the 200 million iPods Apple would eventually sell. Around the same time, Odeo employees, from Glass and Williams on down, began to realize that they weren't listening to podcasts as much as they thought they would be.
Says Cook: "We built [Odeo], we tested it a lot, but we never used it."
Suddenly, says Zachary, "the company was going sideways."
By this point, Odeo had 14 people working full time — including now-CEO Evan Williams and a friend of his from Google, Christopher "Biz" Stone.
Williams decided Odeo's future was not in podcasting, and later that year, he told the company's employees to start coming up with ideas for a new direction Odeo could go. The company started holding official "hackathons" where employees would spend a whole day working on projects. They broke off into groups.
Odeo co-founder Noah Glass gravitated toward Jack Dorsey, whom Glass says was "one of the stars of the company." Jack had an idea for a completely different product that revolved around "status" — what people were doing at a given time.
"I got the impression he was unhappy with what he was working on — a lot of cleanup work on Odeo."
"He started talking to me about this idea of status and how he was really interested in status," Glass says. "I was trying to figure out what it was he found compelling about it."
"There was a moment when I was sitting with Jack and I said, 'Oh, I do see how this could really come together to make something really compelling.' We were sitting on Mission St. in the car in the rain. We were going out and I was dropping him off and having this conversation. It all fit together for me."
One day in February 2006, Glass, Dorsey, and a German contract developer Florian Weber, presented Jack's idea to the rest of the company. It was a system where you could send a text to one number and it would be broadcasted out to all of your friends: Twttr.
Noah Glass says it was he who came up with the name "Twttr." "I spent a bunch of time thinking about it," he says. Eventually, the name would become Twitter.
After that February presentation to the company, Evan Williams was skeptical of Twitter's potential, but he put Glass in charge of the project. From time to time, Biz Stone helped out Glass' Twitter team.
And it really was Glass' team, by the way. Not Jack Dorsey's.
Everyone agrees that original inkling for Twitter sprang from Jack Dorsey's mind. Dorsey even has drawings of something that looks like Twitter that he made years before he joined Odeo. And Jack was obviously central to the Twitter team.
But all of the early employees and Odeo investors we talked to also agree that no one at Odeo was more passionate about Twitter in the early days than Odeo's co-founder, Noah Glass.
"It was predominantly Noah who pushed for the project to be started," says Blaine Cook, who describes Glass as Twitter's "spiritual leader."
"He definitely had a vision for what it was," says Ray McClure.
"There were two people who were really excited [about Twitter,]" concurs Odeo investor George Zachary. "Jack and Noah Glass. Noah was fanatically excited about Twitter. Fanatically! Evan and Biz weren't at that level. Not remotely."
Zachary says Glass told him, "You know what's awesome about this thing? It makes you feel like you're right with that person. It's a whole emotional impact. You feel like you're connected with that person."
At one point the entire early Twitter service was running on Glass' laptop. "An IBM Thinkpad," Glass says, "Using a Verizon wireless card."
"It was right there on my desk. I could just pick it up and take it anywhere in the world. That was a really fun time."
Glass insists that he is not Twitter's sole founder or anything like it. But he feels betrayed that his role has basically been expunged from Twitter history. He says Florian Weber doesn't get enough credit, either.
"Some people have gotten credit, some people haven't. The reality is, it was a group effort. I didn't create Twitter on my own. It came out of conversations."
"I do know that without me, Twitter wouldn't exist. In a huge way."
By March of 2006, Odeo had a working Twitter prototype. In July, TechCrunch covered Twttr for the first time. That same summer, Odeo employees obsessed with Twitter were racking up monthly SMS bills totaling hundreds of dollars. The company agreed to pay those bills for the employees. In August, a small earthquake shook San Francisco and word quickly spread through Twitter — an early 'ah-ha!' moment for users and company-watchers alike. By that fall, Twitter had thousands of users.
By this point, engineer Blaine Cook says it began to feel like there were "two companies" at Odeo — the one "Noah and Florian and Jack and Biz were working on" (Twitter) and Odeo. Twitter, says Ray McClure, "was definitely the thing you wanted to be working on."
At a board meeting for Odeo that summer, Noah Glass presented Twitter to Odeo's directors. They hardly blinked at it.
Then, one day in September 2006, Odeo's CEO Evan Williams wrote a letter to Odeo's investors. In it, Williams told them that the company was going nowhere, that he felt bad about that, and that he would like to buy back their shares so they wouldn't take a loss.
In his letter to Odeo's investors, Williams wrote this about Twitter:
By the way, Twitter (http://twitter.com), which you may have read about, is one of the pieces of value that I see in Odeo, but it's much too early to tell what's there. Almost two months after launch, Twitter has less than 5,000 registered users. I will continue to invest in Twitter, but it's hard to say it justifies the venture investment Odeo certainly holds -- especially since that investment was for a different market altogether.
Evan proposed buying back Odeo investors' stock, and, eventually, the investors agreed to the buyback. So Evan bought the company — and Twitter. The amount he paid has never been reported. Multiple investors, who had combined to put $5 million into Odeo, say Evan made them whole.
Five years later, assets of the company the original Odeo investors sold for approximately $5 million are now worth at least 1000x more: $5 billion.
How do those investors feel now?
We spoke to most of them, and in general, the answer is that most feel at peace now — if only now. Some are wistful. Others are hurt. Speaking to one or two, you can detect a suspicion that they were somehow conned by Williams.
Most echoed the sentiments of James Hong, the co-founder of HotOrNot.com and an Odeo angel investor . Hong told us, "Obviously, I wish what happened hadn't happened. There was a dark period where I didn't want to hear about Twitter."
Many of the Odeo investors still appreciate Williams' gesture.
"At the time, it was well received as a gracious act," says one individual investor, Don Hutchinson. "Often when you're investing in early stage companies you end up with a dead loss."
A few wish that Williams had been more upfront about what he was planning to do next, as they would have loved to re-invest in Twitter.
"I wish he had reached out to me," says Mitch Kapor, still an active and successful investor in the Valley. "I think he could have, but didn't. And I'd say it's sort of a shared responsibility."
Some of the investors who sold Odeo and Twitter to Evan Williams for a few million dollars wonder about his intentions at the time.
Had Evan tricked them into thinking Twitter wasn't worth much, when he already knew it would be a gold mine?
One investor asked: "Could Evan have known this would be the world's best thing ever and hid it while re-capitalizing the company?"
"If there's ever any litigious stuff in the air," says this investor, "it will be: How much did Evan know about the user engagement and numbers of Twitter at the time of buying it out?"
EVAN WILLIAMS: THE DARK SIDE
Probably the only reason anyone feels comfortable bringing up those kinds of questions is that Evan Williams has a reputation for being quietly shrewd. Lots of Odeo investors and employees used the word "calculating" to describe him.
Also, people have made strong accusations against Williams in the past.
A New York Times profile from last fall resurfaced old allegations that Williams failed to properly compensate Blogger employees when he sold that company to Google in 2003.
His Blogger co-founder, Meg Hourihan, is reported in the story to have said, “I don’t think he took care of the people who got him to where he was." The Times also reported that "Mr. Williams says that all successful businesspeople make enemies along the way."
The truth is we'll probably never really know whether Williams actually thought he had the next big thing when he downplayed Twitter to investors.
On the one hand, by early as the summer of 2006, there was already plenty of evidence that some users found Twitter impossibly addictive. Evan Henshaw-Plath says he remembers one Odeo employee racking up a $400 SMS bill. So many users sent so many texts that Odeo eventually agreed to pay employee texting bills. Noah Glass says that, early on, mobile carriers told him they'd never seen so much SMS activity than they did with Twitter.
One early Odeo employee, who preferred not to be named, says "Ev decided there was something interesting enough in Twitter that he wanted to buy all the assets and buy everyone out."
On the other hand, Twitter really only did have a few thousand users at the time Evan bought it and the rest of Odeo back from investors. Blaine Cook told us that there was a meeting during the summer of 2006 about whether or not to just turn the whole thing off. Everyone agrees it wasn't obvious that Twitter would a huge hit until six months later, in the spring of 2007, when it took over the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas.
It's worth noting that months after buying Odeo back from its investors, Evan Williams offered a select few of them a chance to buy into Twitter at a a $25 million valuation.
Tim O'Reilly, an Odeo investor who also who runs O'Reilly Media and its famous Web 2.0 conferences, reflects: "It's certainly possible that Ev is more Machiavellian than he appears. I don't know. I take it at face value that he was doing what he thought was best."
"It's very easy to look back and say, 'Wow, I'd like to have a bigger piece of that.' It's very easy to say that."
Either way, Odeo's investors agreed to let Williams buy them out.
The first thing Evan Williams did when he bought Odeo back from investors was to change its name to Obvious Corp.
What he did next was shocking to everyone involved.
He fired the man who was Odeo's founder and Twitter's biggest champion, Noah Glass.
"I remember when Noah told me he wasn't going to back to Twitter," says McClure. "I was shocked."
"We were out at night and he said it looked like he wasn't coming back. He had taken a two-week break and I thought it was just a little break. Hard to hear him say that. It kind of blew my mind because I felt like we all identified with this, and of course I was worried about the team."
Probably because everyone we talked to, from employees to the more hands-on investors, all agreed that Twitter would not have been created without Glass.
Odeo engineer Evan Henshaw-Plath describes Glass, Dorsey, and Florian Webb as Twitter's "actual founders."
"Noah got really into it," says Henshaw-Plath. "Seriously obsessive. I-don't-care-if-my-marriage-dies-I'm-focused-on-this into it."
"Noah cared a lot about Twitter," says Blaine Cook, the Odeo employee who eventually became Twitter CTO. "If you look at his profile now, it says 'I started this.' And he did."
George Zachary, the partner at Charles River Ventures and lead Odeo investor, tells us that while Jack Dorsey is "the real core founder" of Twitter, Noah was a "huge advocate."
Why did Williams fire Glass?
The most common answer we heard is that the two had clashing personalities. Everyone says so. Basically: Glass is loud and Williams is quiet.
"Noah, you can always hear him talking," says McClure. "Ev, you can always hear him thinking."
Along these lines, one Odeo employee says that Williams might have fired Glass because Glass was volatile. The employee remembers a time when Glass was "a little hard" on a girl named Crystal. "I think it was a day that he was kind of stressed. He was a little volatile."
Others, including Glass, suggest the reason he might have been pushed out is that he expressed too much interest in running Twitter. Early on, before Evan or Biz were believers in Twitter, Glass wanted to split the product off as its own company and be CEO.
"That was the plan — take this thing and spin it off," he says. "I actually had done all the paperwork and was ready to roll. It was ready to go. That's probably part of the reason why I'm no longer involved with it."
"I told [Williams] I would do things differently. When you speak truth to power, the ramifications can go a lot of different ways."
Zachary says that the reason Evan Williams ended up in control of Twitter is that "Evan had the money to be able to buy out the shareholders. Noah did not."
Most everyone we talked to seemed pretty sure that Glass walked away from Odeo/Obvious/Twitter with some equity in hand. The truth is that, at first, he did not. Later, perhaps when Twitter was spun out of Obvious, he got some.
"I came away with something. If I'd stayed, if it would have gone the other way, I would have come away with a lot lot more."
Glass says the whole mess left him feeling "betrayed."
"I felt betrayed by my friends, by my company, by these people around me I trusted and that I had worked hard to create something with. I was a little shell-shocked. I was like, 'Wait. what's the value in building these relationships if this is the result?' So I spent a lot of time by myself. And working on things alone."
"History is written by the winners." – George Orwell
In March 2011, five years after Twttr was born, Howard Stern had Christopher "Biz" Stone on his show.
Stern asked Stone about the founding of Twitter, and Biz relayed this version of events:
Howard Stern: So you and Evan are working at Google, you turn to him one day, and say what?
Biz Stone: I went out to California to take a risk. I was at Google for two years, they IPO'd, I suddenly found myself very comfortable. I thought this isn't risky. Evan and I quit Google, we started this Odeo company. Problem with Odeo was although it was a good idea and we raised venture capital to build it, we were not using the product. We were not emotionally invested in the product. If you're going to do a startup and you're going to take that risk, you have to be emotionally invested.
HS: Did you have any success with it? Did anyone sign up?
BS: It wasn't a complete dud. It wasn't lighting the world on fire like Blogger.
HS: How much money had you raised?
BS: We had raised about $5 million.
HS: It takes money to put up the infrastructure. That's the thing. And with these companies it's difficult, because you gotta offer it free first. Like Facebook and all that. You gotta offer it free so that people start using it.
BS: Big leap of faith and you have to start building. It wasn't lighting the world on fire. We weren't thrilled by it. What had happened was during this time, my other co-founder Jack Dorsey and I had become close collaborators and friends. We were starting to talk about what else we could do besides this that would be more fun. And Evan, who was our third co-founder, had this great idea. He said, "You guys seem to be getting along really well. Why don't you just take a break? Take two weeks and build something totally different. Something fun, something you guys really want to do.
HS: And when someone says that to you, you can build that because you know how to program? You write the script, so to speak?
BS: Right. So Jack and I built the prototype. We took two weeks and built the working early model of Twitter and showed the rest of the team. We said, "What do you guys think?" People were pretty underwhelmed.
When we heard this interview, we'd already been working on this story for a while. We'd talked to Odeo investors and Odeo employees who had all seen the creation of Twitter firsthand.
What Biz told Howard Stern sounded different from what all those people told us — especially in the way it left out Noah Glass and Florian Weber.
We couldn't help being a little offended for them.
Earlier this month, Noah Glass, who had not updated his Twitter, YouTube, or blog accounts in almost two years, posted to Twitter that he was "putting life into cardboard. moving back to San Francisco. back to life."
Not long afterwards, he responded to one of our emails. We set up a phone call.
Touching on what it feels like to be left out of history, how hard it is to be "betrayed" by your friends, and whether Ev Williams lied to Odeo investors about Twitter's numbers, it went like this…
A Note: We reached out to Evan Williams several times to discuss this story. He never responded. After we published this story, he tweeted, "It's true that @Noah never got enough credit for his early role at Twitter. Also, he came up with the name, which was brilliant."
Special Thanks: This story wouldn't have been possible without immense help from Business Insider's Dylan Love.
Twitter launches a Privacy Center to centralize its data protection efforts
Twitter today is launching a new resource that aims to serve as the central place for everything related to the company’s efforts around privacy and data protection. The new site, the Twitter Privacy Center, will host information about Twitter’s initiatives, announcements and new privacy products, as well as other communication about security incidents.
The company says it wanted to create a centralized resource so it would be easier to find all the information about Twitter’s work in this area. However, the impacts of Europe’s data protection regulation, GDPR, likely also spurred Twitter’s efforts on this front, along with other data laws.
For its own purposes, Twitter now needs to have a more organized approach to consumer data privacy. As a result, it makes sense to put Twitter’s work and announcements onto a consumer-facing site that’s easy to navigate and use.
Read more about it here: https://t.co/IykRanR61Q
&mdash Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) December 2, 2019
The new Twitter Privacy Center splits information between what’s aimed at users and what’s for partners. On the latter front, it has dedicated pages for GDPR, CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) and Global DPA (Data Processing Addendum), for example.
In its newly updated policies, Twitter says the entity serving the EU, or European Economic Area, is Twitter International Company, not Twitter. This entity already exists but Twitter is now moving people outside of the E.U. and outside of the U.S. to Twitter Inc. from Twitter International. This change gives Twitter the ability to test features and settings for E.U. users alone. It also allows Twitter to provide these users with a different set of controls outside of its main product.
For example, Twitter says it may test additional opt-in or opt-out preferences, prompts or other requirements for advertisements. Some of this work may make its way back to Twitter eventually.
Twitter’s new Terms also clarify that its intellectual property license says that the content users provide may be curated, transformed and translated by Twitter.
In its announcement, Twitter spins its history a bit by saying how privacy has been its focus since the service’s creation in 2006. That’s a funny stance, given its product has been that of a public social media platform, not a private one — a sort of public SMS, in fact.
Twitter notes how users are able to be anonymous on its platform, a feature it says was built with privacy in mind. In reality, Twitter’s creation was inspired by SMS, but Twitter remained an ambiguous product for years, until its user base grew and figured out what they wanted Twitter to be. Much of what Twitter is today — even its conventions like the @ mention and the retweet — grew organically, not by design.
The company’s announcement today also states its privacy and data protection work going forward will be focused on three key areas: 1) to fix Twitter’s technical debt — meaning upgrading older systems to support their current uses 2) to build privacy into all new products it launches and 3) accountability.
Products now go through reviews by Twitter’s Information Security, Product and Privacy Counsel teams and its independent Office of Data Protection ahead of launch. In addition, Twitter’s Data Protection Officer, Damien Kieran, will provide to Twitter’s board of directors every quarter an independent assessment of all privacy and data protection-related work to ensure Twitter remains on track.
“It’s so common to hear tech companies say: ‘Privacy is not a privilege it is a fundamental right’ that those words have become a cliche. People have become desensitized to hearing companies say, ‘we value your privacy,’ and are worn out from being asked to accept privacy policies that they rarely, if ever, even read,” read Twitter’s announcement about the launch of the new Twitter Privacy Center, jointly authored by both Kieran and Twitter Product Lead, Kayvon Beykpour.
“Many companies make these declarations without even showing people what actions they are taking to protect their privacy. And let’s be honest, we have room for improvement, too,” it stated.
The History of Twitter
“This is what the naysayers fail to understand: it’s just as easy to use Twitter to spread the word about a brilliant 10,000-word New Yorker article as it is to spread the word about your Lucky Charms habit.” -Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air
Twitter is approaching its 6 th birthday soon and the platform has really come a long way from its early beginnings. Twitter is one of the most popular social networks used today but it began as another micro-blogging platform created by programmers who worked at the podcasting company Odeo Inc. in San Francisco, California.
Jack Dorsey (@Jack), Evan Williams (@Ev) and Biz Stone (@Biz) had big plans for Twitter but they likely had no idea how popular it would truly become. When they first created the site, they were just looking for a way to send text messages on their cell phones and a way to reinvent a somewhat dying company.
On March 21, 2006, @Jack sent the first tweet: “just setting up my twttr.” It would be the beginning of a revolution. Now people from all over the world and many different fields and professions are saying it all in 140 characters or less. Dom Sagolla (@Dom), in tweet 38, typed these prescient words: “Oh, this is going to be addictive.”
And addictive is certainly a good word for it…
So how did Twitter get its name? Supposedly, the name was inspired by the photo-sharing site, Flickr, and other considerations were FriendStalker and Dodgeball. The definition of twitter is “a short burst of inconsequential information” and “a series of chirps from birds”.
The name was fitting and so the new platform became Twitter. Soon the “chirps” of many twitterers would be heard/seen throughout the Twitterverse as the microblogging platform caught on with Internet users. It would still be a couple of years before it was fully mainstream but it didn’t take this new site long to gain fame.
Why 140 characters only? The limit was set because 160 characters was the SMS carrier limit and they wanted to leave room for the username.
Twitter Spreads the News
Twitter is much more than just your friends telling you about their day. It has changed the media, politics and business. Many will report they hear their news first on Twitter- stories of natural disasters, sports scores, the death of a celebrity and more are shared first on Twitter.
Social media and microblogging site Twitter has changed political communication profoundly. In the past, political news and commentary was only reported by a select group of those “in the know”. But today, we see both politicians and the Average Joe on Twitter sharing their political banter and opinions. It is a new era of citizen journalists and we see people speaking up and speaking out about the things that are important to them.
Twitter has also had an impact on business as brands find a new way to reach their fans where they are already- in social media and on their smartphones. Twitter has become a tool that businesses large and small can use to reach their target market, provide customer service, share their unique content and more. It’s also become a way for everyday people to keep in touch with their favorite celebrities and a tool for the celebrities to stay in contact with their fans.
This brings us to some of the most popular Twitter accounts.
Most Popular Twitter Accounts
According to Twitaholic, these are the current five most popular Twitter accounts:
Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) 33,265,051 followers
Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) 33,262,987 followers
Katy Perry (@katyperry) 31,405,485 followers
Rihanna (@rihanna) 27,928,899 followers
Barack Obama (@BarackObama) 25,963,966 followers
It’s no real surprise to see entertainers taking the lead there on the list.
One important thing to note about these top Twitter accounts is that many of them havefake Twitter followers. For some time, this info was obscured but there are now tools that can analyze a user’s account and give you more details about their followers, including how many bots or “fake” accounts they have following them.
Status People has a “fakers tool” that allows you to see how many fake followers your friends have. Just put someone’s Twitter handle in and check out their stats for yourself. While the average Twitter user might have different statistics, most highly popular or celebrity accounts have at least some fake followers.
Lady Gaga has 32% fake followers 35% inactive so only 33% of her followers are considered “good”. President Obama has 23% fake, 31% inactive and 46% good. The Biebs has 16% fake, 37% inactive and 47% good, based on this tool.
Today Twitter has over 200 million users with about 460,000 new accounts being created each day. There are more than 140 million tweets sent each day and while the company had only eight employees in 2008, they now have more than 400 and they’re hiring.
David Foster Wallace said that the Internet was “the bathroom wall of the American psyche,” which led The New Yorker to ask its readers to define Twitter in a tweet. They got some very interesting and sometimes funny responses:
@Wodespain – “Communicative disease”
@Winooski – “Crouching Grammar, Hidden Manners”
@anglescott – “Twitter is the dime store in the marketplace of ideas”
@jaelmchenry – “A riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in typos wrapped in bacon.”
@francesolimpo -“Twitter is like the ocean: There’s a lot to wade through, and occasionally you’ll see a whale”
@yamageo -“Twitter is the glory hole in the bathroom wall of the American psyche.”
History Launches ‘JFK Twitter Takeover’ For 50th Anniversary of Assassination
Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the ways the public shares information are vastly different. History is highlighting these changes by tweeting play-by-play accounts of Kennedy’s final days as it builds up to the shooting’s 50th anniversary on Friday.
The project, dubbed “JFK Twitter Takeover,” is on History’s official Twitter account, and features regular updates of the late president’s going-ons in the last week of his life. Today, for example, History tracks his campaign stops in Tampa while Secret Service and Dallas PD surveys possible motorcade routes for his ill-fated arrival.
Later today, Secret Service and Dallas PD will survey possible motorcade routes for Kennedy's visit there later this week. #JFK50
&mdash HISTORY (@HISTORY) November 18, 2013
There are also plenty of photos provided, as well as documents and articles accompanying the subject.
The motorcade is making its way through downtown Tampa, towards the Ft. Hersterly Armory. Check out photos: http://t.co/8V1KHJsNIz #JFK50
&mdash HISTORY (@HISTORY) November 18, 2013
On Friday, along with tweeting the big event, History will air “JFK: The Definitive Guide” and “Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live.”
Meanwhile, starting Friday, CBS will stream their live, uncut coverage of the assassination, as it happened, on its website. The coverage will include the initial breaking news bulletins and extend through the Kennedy funeral.