Books Media

Impressions of “Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal,” by Nick Bilton

First, it must be said it’s not a coincidence that it’s almost impossible to find a picture of all four of Twitter’s co-founders in it. They seem not to like each other, which makes this book a fun soap opera to read.

Hatching Twitter is one of those rare books that is an (accidental?) hatchet job on its primary source. The last time I felt this was about a book was After Steve, where Jonny Ive was clearly the source of the book and the narrative made Ive look terrible.

Hatching Twitter is about the founding of Twitter to its (first) pro-Founder era, the confusing period when each of the four Founders (Noah Glass, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, and Jack Dorsey) each were leaders of either Twitter or its predecessor company, and the Board of Directors booted each out in turn.

This book helped me understand the debate in New York Times-adjacent outlets about Twitter, Yahoo, and other companies being either a “technology company” or a “media company.” The discussion confused me before. Facebook is both an advertising powerhouse and a legitimately impressive technology company. Yahoo clearly failed at both. But from an early age, Twitter was a loosely aligned set of commodity technology components with a surprisingly effective marketing angle. The technology (and the stories of the people who built the technology) behind Twitter feels less interesting than Gmail or Salesforce. But it’s a thought-spreading machine (a way of sharing “what’s happening” and “what’s your status”) based on celebrities, influences, a desire to be near an in-crowd.

Two striking anecdotes in the book – both written of fondly – crystalize this. One a party where the rapper Snoop Doogg (of “Hangover” fame) appeared on Twitter’s headquarters, another where two of the co-founders visited Al Gore in his luxury apartment. These must be fun memories. But if you think of the great struggles in technology – as covered by both paeans and philippics of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and others – that they partied was not an accomplishment. But Twitter is a media company and never was a tech company, so such outings were core to the company’s nature.

*The author (or rather, his sources) seems to dislike Jack Dorsey, so unsurprisingly, Dorsey comes across the best in this book But I suspect the discussion is missing something important “Jack” is described as generally inattentive, uninvolved, and unconcerned about the company This may be Dorsey famously appeared ignorant of fundamental aspects of Twitter’s most controversial actions when discussing it.

But Jack Dorsey wasCEO for longer than any other man, and his second term as CEO alone is longer than anyone else’s time in that role. Is Dorsey dumb, or dumb like a fox?

The book ends with the “end” of the founder era, ironically before the beginning of Jack Dorsey’s longest stretch as CEO. This is the rise of Dick Costolo as the company’s CEO A former comedian, Costello was known for beginning the heavy moderation of speech that fell outside the Silicon Valley Overton window and for applauding violence against those he disagreed with.

Me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution I’ll happily provide video commentary.
Dick Costell, CEO of Twitter,, September 2020

But that drama, Jack’s return, the confusing reign of Parag Agrawal, and the era of Elon Musk all occur after the end of this book. Look elsewhere for that stuff.

But if you want to read about a party with Al Gore, this is the book for you.

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