Book Review: Hatching Twitter

hatching-twitterBilton, Nick. Hatching Twitter : a true story of money, power, friendship, and betrayal. Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.

Lenin said that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. In this story about the founding of Twitter, New York Times reporter Nick Bilton explains that one of the four creators of Twitter (Jack Dorsey) often told the media that he was the sole inventor and CEO when he was no longer with the company.  Today he is remembered as the sole founder.  In his new book Hatching Twitter, Bilton sets the story straight, detailing the conflicts and jealousies within the company, the lies, infighting, power struggles and ultimately, revenge.

When the story begins, Nebraska native Evan Williams invents Blogger as push-button publishing for the people and sells it to Google for millions.  To prove that he is not a one-hit wonder, he looks to start another tech company.  He meets his neighbor Noah Glass and finances his new web-based podcasting company, Odeo.  Williams is named CEO.  Soon after, they hire Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone and the four friends go on to found Twitter as a side business to Odeo.  Odeo goes out of business, while Twitter becomes a technology phenomenon.  Meanwhile infighting begins as the founders do not agree on what Twitter is and how it should be used.  Is the stream of updates a news service or a status updating service?  Is Twitter a communications utility or a social network?  A web site or mobile application?

As its popularity grows, it becomes apparent that Twitter has a shaky foundation and is badly managed.  Yet the book contains few details about the business aspects of Twitter, its management, strategy or technology. Most of the text is about the creators’ inept management and their disputes.  As friends, the founders avoid conflict and, as they seethe in anger, significant problems go unresolved.  Over time, Ev and Jack force out Noah; Ev forces out Jack; investors force out Ev; Jack returns to the company.

This gossipy page-turner contains ample details about the founders’  lives and emotions.  Jack Dorsey receives especially rough treatment, portrayed as a superficial vengeful Steve Jobs wannabe.  The side sketches of people like Mark Zuckerberg and Al Gore are amusing as they offer to buy Twitter.  In places the writing is melodramatic but this book is recommended as an engaging history of the inventors of an important technology company.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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