Business Today

Tweet Talk

'Hatching Twitter' by Nick Bilton tells the history of the microblogging site which has united the world.
twitter-logo Manu Kaushik        Print Edition: Feb 16, 2014
Tweet Talk

Hatching Twitter By Nick Bilton; Sceptre; Pages: 302; Price: Rs 599
When Twitter went in for its $18-billion initial public offering last November, it produced, at a single stroke, the largest pool of millionaires and billionaires globally. The three co-founders, 1,600 employees, and a bunch of investors who bet on this San Francisco-based start-up - which most people had initially dismissed as just another social networking and microblogging site when it began in March 2006 - were all amply rewarded.

But Twitter's ride to the top has not been smooth. This book, by Nick Bilton, a columnist and reporter with the New York Times, provides fascinating insights into the way Twitter was conceived and the set of events that followed. Bilton tells the story through the people who were instrumental in making Twitter what it is today - the founders, Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Noah Glass, and the current CEO, Dick Costolo. 

The anecdotes include Williams' nervous guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the President of Russia showing up at Twitter's office to send his first tweet, Williams and Stone going to dinner at former US vice president Al Gore's apartment where he tries to convince them to sell him part of Twitter. It also chronicles the bizarre acquisition attempts Twitter faced from actor/producer/investor Ashton Kutcher and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. There is much about the Twitter's co-founders modest backgrounds and how these nobodies went on to become the talk of the globalised village.

There is much in the book about the Twitter's co-founders' modest backgrounds and how these nobodies went on to become the talk of the globalised village.

Twitter's flight is also marked by nasty rivalries. The company has seen constant churn at the top - three CEOs were fired in a short period of time. First, it was Glass, whose name was later erased from the company's official history. (Twitter was in fact a side project of Odeo, a podcasting service launched by Glass, that eventually died.) Glass was followed by Dorsey and then Williams, before falling into the hands of Costolo, a former professional comic who is credited with making Twitter a revenue-earning business. The book notes that till around February 2009, even though Twitter was growing at a phenomenal rate with active users rising 900 per cent annually, its revenues stood at zero.

The book is also full of little known facts about Twitter. It informs, for instance, that actor and musician Janina Gavankar was the first celebrity to tweet. It reveals that the first use of the @ symbol was by a young Apple designer Robert Anderen, in November 2006. The maximum length of a tweet used to be 160 characters at one point. This was the maximum length of a text message that could be sent from a cellphone, which was later brought down to 140.

Paying great attention to minor details, the book also successfully captures Twitter's growing popularity, event by event. Twitter got its first 'break' at the  'South by Southwest' music festival of 2007, but its importance reached a pinnacle during the "miracle on the Hudson" in 2009, when an Airbus 320 in the US narrowly avoided tragedy, and one of the first pictures of the aircraft after its landing appeared in a tweet.

While Hatching Twitter has a good deal on Twitter's first few years, it is silent on recent developments in the company, including its ownership structure, which has undergone major changes in recent times, and the revenue model that CEO Costolo has adopted.

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