I still remember the first time that someone tried to explain Twitter to me. It was Bud Hunt (aka Bud the Teacher), and he was visiting Western Massachusetts for the National Writing Project. We were all at dinner in Amherst and he started to talk up Twitter, which had only just launched from the ashes of the Odeo podcasting site. Bud talked about it as best as he could, and admitted he was struggling to explain why Twitter mattered. But he predicted tweeting would take hold and it would be important to teachers as a way to network and share resources.
So it is. Just the other night, I stumbled into the #Engchat conversation on Twitter (where Brian Kelly was hosting a conversation about using audio in the classroom and “writing for the ear”) and for the next 30 minutes, I was hooked into sharing and exploration of voice and audio with a boatload of other teachers around the world, expanding my knowledge and never leaving my home. It was more valuable than many elements of formal PD I have sat through over the years.
I thought back to Bud’s dinner table talk as I read Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship and Betrayal by reporter Nick Bilton. The story of Twitter has many twists and yes, many betrayals of friendship, as the platform moved into the mainstream from start-up mode. Bilton did extensive research and hours of interviews to get into the moment of Twitter’s emergence as a media powerhouse. Twitter began as an offshoot of Odeo, which I remember using as an early podcasting site, and grew up into something still emerging, right?
What struck me is how important the “creation myth” of Twitter became to the four founders of Twitter (Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey, and Biz Stone). Each in their own way tried to shape the story of who “invented” Twitter, if Bilton’s book is to believed. Some of the four (Dorsey) were doing it intentionally, so as to gain a foothold back into leading the company forward. Others (Glass) got lost in the faded history of Twitter.
The other story that drove Twitter is the essential question of Twitter: is the status question told in 140 characters one about you/me (what’s your status?) or is it about the world (what’s happening?). What story are we all telling? That debate over a few words led to divisions within the company itself.
Hatching Twitter is one of those books that made me think of my daily media life a little different. We take technology for granted. But behind the tech that succeeds (as opposed to the multitudes that don’t), there is always a story of creation and there are always people shaping those creation stories. Bilton’s book about Twitter shows how messy that endeavor can become once the money starts flowing.
Peace (in the tweet),