Wednesday, June 3, 2009
My day at Twitter
I first met Biz Stone in 2007 at a conference. At the time, Twitter was sort of insider-hot, but not the insane thing it's become lately.
Attending the conference was part of my attempt to understand what the hell was happening in the digital/internet/media world. It turned out to be a pretty special event, like a internet/media version of TED, intimate and insight-filled and chock full of heavy people from Michael Eisner to Arianna Huffington to the editors of The Onion to the producer of the Daily Show to the founder of Flickr to the creative director at Nokia. All the internet jedis, from Barbarian Group to AKQA, etc. Vint Cerf was there. He invented the internet.
Here's what left the deepest impression: These tech wizards, they weren't slaves to their technology. At most conferences, every time there's a break, people go off by themselves and crack open their laptops or start poking their iPhones, but at this one, after each session, people would immediately cluster in small groups and talk to each other and bullshit and laugh.
This surprised me. It seemed like the front edge leaders and thinkers weren't obsessed with technology, they were obsessed with life, and interested in how technology can make it better. It opened a new perspective on what the front edge of tech might really look like.
Anyway, the next year, I met Biz again after he sent in an application to SEEKING, an experimental recruiting thingamajig we did at W+K. He was one of 36 people from around the world we flew to Portland as part of a talent search. [Though he admitted he wasn't looking a job; he was seeking recruiting ideas for Twitter!]
Then I lost touch with Biz for a while, but because of Twitter's expanding role in the hyperinstantconnectedsharingness thing that fascinates me, I kept seeing him everywhere.
Finally, when Twitter turned down yet another kajillion dollar offer, reportedly because they thought that their potential was bigger than money(!), I was so impressed I had to call him. We had a rich conversation, and it led to an invite to come down and talk about some of the issues Twitter is facing and the questions they are asking.
Friday I spent the day there.
Besides Biz, I talked with Doug, their creative director, and Chloe and Anamitra, who are considering how Twitter creates value in the business world.
"What was Twitter like?" people have asked, and it was cool, definitely, but I am pretty spoiled on cool offices filled with impressive groups of bright, talented young people. What impressed me most was not the bike rack in their living room or the catered meals, or even the creative capital of the organization, but the sense that I got of their shared purpose, and the quality of questions they are asking themselves. Questions about creating value (vs. profit), about what role they can play in connecting people and inspiring creativity, about the importance of openness, transparency, humility and service. Inspiring.
And it might not have even been the highlight of my trip? Another serendipitous meeting led to the possibility of doing some work on Wikipedia, which I consider the single greatest manifestation of the promise of the internet. Wikipedia is so incredible. Yippee.
And then there was the four-way storytelling between me, Mark, Cleo and Josie Barden.
All told, an inspiring and fun 36 hours. Exciting things unfolding in the world.