There was a specific three-day period in Austin Texas in 2007 where Twitter hit its clearly defined tipping point, I remember exactly, as Rocketboom had hit its tipping point under similar conditions just two years before.
The collective, international tech industry used to descend into SXSW each March, always two weeks too early for good weather, but this particular year no one cared, since everyone was walking around with their head in their phone looking at twitter.
What are you doing? I’m tweeting, you gotta check this out. Then ten minutes later that person was like, oh my, you need to check this out.
The meme was so strong it was difficult for anyone there to not see the wave of its spread in real-time as people logged in throughout downtown Austin. It had a great use case for the event: people were tweeting antidotes and quotes while sitting in conferences of people describing what they were working on, sometimes part of the next big thing. Tweet storming as we know it now. There were simultaneously hundreds of talks and events happening throughout the day and it was impossible to be at all of them, or to get into the most popular ones, so this solved a lot of that problem.
Strangers would just walk up to you and say they saw you were here and start talking to you about your work which was an interesting new phenomenon of a real-time internet.
I was inspired to attend Twitter’s developer session. They only had a handful, and they were articulating for the first time to the world how they pulled off the feat.
I mostly only know about internet problems and within this realm, I was blown away by how complex it was to get twitter to work in real-time for so many people to see so many different views at once. As the developers were describing how they put it together, I kept picturing the scene in Brazil where the repairman comes in to fix the guts of someone’s house and wrestles with some kind of aggressive biological wiring system. They truly invented a way that is worth researching if you are interested in historical moments in internet development.
As people left the conference that Sunday and Monday, returning back to their homes in cities around the world, you could again watch the spread, in real-time, as each city grew its veins outward in perfect fractal forms. It was one of the most memetic internet moments of product success and adoption of the Web 2.0 era, for the implementation of an idea that was so strong in-and-of itself, into an environment that was teeming with the most favorable conditions, nearly ideal in-and-of itself…a discernible set of isolated conditions that grew into one of the largest, most important cultural movements of our time.
I still don’t really understand “What am I doing” or “What’s happening” when I’m tweeting, it feels weird to say the least.
I think the weirdest, most different part is putting out short little thoughts for any stranger who will listen. It’s this quality. It makes no difference if you know anyone or not, it feels like walking down main street and just yelling out to people with random, out-of-context ideas, completely into the wild.
You swing open the doors of a store and step out into the plaza: Hello world! Going to go check out the new record store down the way, pretty excited about the 45 collection. A guy walks by right afterwards and tips his hat: Did you know a Tardigrade can live for up to 30 years without food or water? A young girl with her mom who happens to hear: Water Bear does not care, change my mind. They stop to discuss it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It really did become the digital town square.
Over the years I came to follow and learn about the roles of Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, and especially Ev who I’ve met a few times.
They were incubating within the medium of sound at the time. They were working with podcasting via Odeo, and spawned twitter on a whim, a weekend-like project originally conceived for use with the SMS protocol for sending telephone text messages. I’m pretty sure they were all caught by surprise at how quickly twitter took off.
Ev led the formation of a new “Obvious Corporation” to buy all of the intellectual property of Odeo in order to obtain the intellectual property of twitter, wherein he sunsetted Odeo to focus fully on the new communication platform.
Ev was the true visionary that designed and took twitter to market, and nurtured twitter to come into itself.
From George Zachary:
“Evan wanted a structure with maximum flexibility without the overhead of additional investors other than himself. He made a good and fair proposal to the board of Odeo and we happily accepted. Everyone around the table was happy to recognize the obvious and support Evan in his goal of starting Obvious.”
Biz led the marketing efforts and Ev lead the vision of the product. Jack, at the time an NYU student, who was instrumental in proposing the spark of the initial idea, was appointed CEO initially, but he was removed from that position about a year after that famous SXSW moment, on the grounds that he was busy with other pursuits, including his hobbies in Yoga and clothing design.
I believe Ev was the single true visionary that took it from there, into what twitter became, as an actual medium. Ev has quietly had more of an impact on democratizing media on the internet for the good of humanity than anyone I can think of so far, in all cycles of internet culture. His life work which includes blogging itself, the disruption of text mind you, is worth your study as much as learning about Gutenberg.
That’s not to say with twitter that he understood anymore than anyone else about what twitter was initially, or could be, but that he was the nurturer of it, to allow it to come into itself organically without corrupting it with his own ego, until he would eventually see what we can all see now in retrospect, which is that it has indeed became the manifestation of a new medium. He not only allowed it to become, he properly harnessed it.
Twitter grew into itself against the largest competitors on the internet.
Google attempted to hit head on early in buying Jiku, but no one went. Facebook offered to buy twitter in 2009 for half a billion dollars, but Ev said no. That’s reliable integrity for any vision. FriendFeed could have been a better set of features than twitter imo, and FriendFeed had a tipping point on its horizon, but Mark Zuckerberg acqui-hired and killed it.
So how did Ev actually do it? Though Twitter today is not what it used to be, twitter emerged under Ev’s watch as the only trustworthy social media platform of Web 2.0. What I saw clearly from watching was not political ideals or ego that led Ev to direct twitter, but rather, it was computer protocols that acted as the guiding light to inform the platform’s policies and principles. Following the ideals of an open protocol can act as a guide – a measure – for a fair and equal social media platform. It can never be fully fair, even when it’s fully open, so long as it’s owned, and when people are involved in the equation.
Today, when people appropriate twitter into politics to say that it used to be slanted toward the US Democratic Party, they are misunderstanding. It is the US Democratic Party that leans towards a world that looks more like a world guided by open protocols, a world that is more fair. It appears to be hard to perfect at scale, and I don’t mean to say that it’s ever been perfected in a company that owns and controls the firehose in the way twitter always has. Twitter is not a protocol in actuality, nor is it a place that is free from rules. Following the ideals of protocols, without allowing twitter itself to be taken over or sold off before it was fully ingrained, was one high result I believe Ev achieved. If twitter just turned off tonight, and never came back on, a new platform would take its place to enable people to do what they do, as it’s now so integrated as part of our daily world culture, a medium that is part of the collective human culture which is free.
At its peak, twitter had attracted the greatest number of experienced professionals across the world’s industries and cultures for being the most balanced, fair, safe, and open. As a town square, with a city council of sorts, public safety, businesses and people, I considered it my generation’s golden era of internet culture, a Rome of sorts, a New York City melting pot on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the summer. What made it so grand for me was that it attracted the world’s greatest thinkers, and they became open and accessible: Hello! I saw that you were here, I want to congratulate you on your Pulitzer Prize, I’m just a hobbyist but can I ask you a question about Astronomy? Certainly! Ask away. The setting was accessible.
THE SECOND CHAPTER
Later, as Ev began looking ahead, Jack who had by this time created Square, came back to the company, sorta butting his way into a CEO position strategically imo, as someone who otherwise probably wouldn’t have been picked.
Perhaps Jack did not have the same vision as Ev, and perhaps was not forthright with the ways in which information on twitter became less fair during his era, though, I haven’t changed my personal opinion too much, in that I felt Jack did an overall good job at keeping things stable, and when changes were announced, or when people like Trump were banned, I was comfortable with the justifications. Trump was warned again, again, and again, and again and again and again and again, and while I was getting frustrated at the unfair treatment, I also admire twitter for taking so long to figure out what to do about it. The power that twitter ended up wielding, in having the switch to cut of a US President, shouldn’t be in the hands of twitter anyway, a lesson should have been learned there. I’m not sure that it was. The Whitehouse account on twitter has already been fact-checked in:
THE THIRD CHAPTER, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS TWITTER 2.0
Enter Elon Musk. I will say upfront that I represent the stereotypical examples of someone who was a major fan of Musk, constantly inspired by what I saw, invested in reading articles about the technology behind his companies, and a general cheerleader who stood with the choir behind him. I watched any video I could find of him speaking, from talks at conferences, to interviews, to random short clips. The reason I did so was because I was in awe by how he did so much, so quickly, and I found his words inspiring and relatable in a down-to-earth way.
In the period leading up to his purchase of twitter, and then subsequently having watched what he’s done, I changed my opinion about Musk 180 degrees.
When people say Musk is not smart, or that he just bought the companies and doesn’t know how the technology works, I find such arguments to be short sighted. Even if he was as inexperienced as a student when he bought each company, his experience of being a leader at the table through so much, after decades, makes him experienced, especially in the roles of finance, business, and marketing. Being experienced however is different from being ethical.
Musk is pushing a lot of technology forward at a faster rate than others, however, the overarching thread across his style of running all of his businesses, I conclude from looking more closely, is that people seem to be consistently languishing in his wake as a result of mere disregard, and he seems to find such consequences to be trivial. And yet, in each business he is appropriating technology that is part of general human progress, and that other companies are making progress too but Musk’s method doesn’t seem to be fair, and counter to the spirit of shared human progress and fair competition. It seems he wants to put out others working diligently on the same problems and is stifling human progress which is the antithesis of the brand he markets.
I originally took up an interest in his Roadster and the first extended interview I saw was by Kevin Rose. He filmed it at Musk’s first nearly completed, still mostly empty automobile factory in California. It left a huge impression on me for happening right at a time when the world was coming into a collective consciousness of the climate, and because the product of the Roadster itself was undeniably a better technology than any current combustion engine car, but also inevitable because it was more effective in every way: safety, engineering, design, emissions. The proof of concept was so perfect at the perfect time that anyone who drove the prototype that the original founders of Tesla made, could see it would be inevitable.
With a deeper look into Tesla, that is, the way that Musk runs the company behind the technology, reveals a world of problems including lawsuits of sexual harassment, rushed products, unfair competition, securities fraud, whistleblower allegations and retaliation, misrepresentations, malfunction complaints for death and injury, racism claims and lawsuits, autopilot fatalities from negligence, racketeering, illegal worker suits, union busting attempts, lemon car sales, software infringement including open source theft, DOJ investigations, a child labor lawsuit, it goes on, and it’s bad. He even allegedly offered one of his workers a horse for sex. At the time of this writing there are over 1200 lawsuits on file, and legal experts are quick to point out that, unusually, the majority of the complaints involve Elon Musk individually as a defendant.
What made Musk so successful in taking it to market it seems was his willingness to disregard people and laws. It’s that simple concept which, when applied across the board, enables him to stay ahead of his competition. So long as he is personally protected from criminal liability, any lawsuit is just a matter of calculating the statistical probabilities of an expense chart and making a comparison.
What Musk did to get Tesla to market at such scale is his optimum legacy, though arguably, he could of also done it just as quickly and effectively in a more fair and more legal fashion with a sense of ethics and a willingness to invest a bit more in maintaining higher legal and human standards.
While vertical landing rockets have been developing for over 60 years, it’s once again an advantage of our time’s processing power and contemporary engineering adroitness to become more efficient in our collective investigations of human knowledge, our natural march into the unknown, for unknown reasons. For me, it’s one of the most exciting adventures of being alive. Humanity is collectively pushing our boundaries of physics and metaphysics further.
With Mars, the next step in the collective journey for humanity is to prove a return mission, bringing material from Mars back to Earth.
China has the first Mars sample return mission scheduled with a launch date in late 2028 with a hopeful return date of July, 2031. NASA and ESA are each expected to have sample-return missions launched in 2030 or 2031, and could make it back with samples by 2033. Yet, less than a year ago, Musk said his planned Starship Mars variant rocket will take people to Mars starting in 2029, which presumably means someone would have to travel there before we knew how to get back.
Though the Starship program itself always represented a hope for me toward that end of multi-planetary life, the main use of Starship that is being built today is for a commercial enterprise that will significantly increase the payload of what Space-X can sell, to grow its bottom line. The Mars variant designs are likely to be improved upon from that commercial experience, and unlike the China, US and ESA missions to Mars, a Space-X mission to Mars is not scheduled.
It’s also the case that humanity has not yet demonstrated how the first people will sustain life on Mars, including the generation of long-term power, air, and water, to name a few problems, despite some pretty good ideas on the table. Be it this decade, the next, or the next, it seems to me that it’s inevitable that humans will continue to progress outward in this direction.
As with his other companies, Musk is the sole marketer for Space-X and he predicted to the press in 2016 that he would land people on Mars in 2024 or 2025. What I learned about Space-X is that it’s the most unique of his companies in the way it is operated, in that Musk doesn’t have the kind of control over the day-to-day operations he does with Tesla or Twitter. The team is largely NASA talent and NASA collaborations. For example, after Elon Musk smoked pot on the Joe Rogan podcast, because he was under federal contracts, they made Musk and all of his team take random drug tests for a year, to assure the ethical safety that Musk seems to be unwilling to assume. So when he says he’ll be sending people to Mars before we know how to get back, it’s unlikely to be true and fortunately unlikely to involve Musk convincing someone to go on a death wish so that he can beat the competition by some number of years. As a brand, saving humanity is an easy sell for himself and all of his companies. But it seems to require additional investment to do right.
Starlink is yet another evolution of contemporary technology that Musk was able to take to market quicker, along for the ride with cargo that funds Space-X. A global internet provider with an array of orbital satellites makes internet connections for people and businesses available at higher speeds and lower costs across 40 countries already, on all continents. Another step further beyond Google’s Loon, a moonshot array of balloons each the size of a tennis court, which sunsetted a year ago, an obvious inspiration and residual death to and from Starlink which took it further, faster.
This company is yet another that is moving the needle with a technology that has been in the works for decades, and that Musk is interested in pushing such technology forward too is a benefit to science and medicine. I first learned about the technology more recently, when they first released a video of a monkey named Pager who learned to play video pong. Pager used a joystick to move the paddle. In the demo they then disconnected the joystick, and said that Pager was thus controlling the paddle with his mind, via their technology hooked up to Pager’s brain.
I have to say, it was an Englebart-level demonstration of a mind blowing prototype that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
Other companies have similar technology and are quietly making similar strides, for its an open part of human progress, too, but Musk is pushing forward so quickly in what seems to be a competitive manner, he now has an open investigation and lawsuit alleging that the majority of his animals are dead from sloppy, unnecessarily rushed experiments, and that that the abuse is not to ethical standards. The details of the mistakes made are just so sad, I am horrified…as humans we can be way better than this.
In the complaint employees of Neuralink also allege that Musk regularly threatens them to move faster or else, saying multiple times they should pretend they have bombs strapped to their heads.
If he wants to move faster though, couldn’t he pay a bit more for more people to run the experiments properly, instead of paying less and expecting more in return?
His response to the allegations was one of the most significant turning points for me, it was just recently, when introducing the latest demo. On stage he expressed that everything was fine and above standard, suggesting the animals are living the good life, indicating to me that he’s gone too far. The same research on animals can be justified when it’s not sloppy. If he sincerely considers everything to be fine, I consider such consideration to be murderous.
It’s so blatant, it dawned on me that this is the theme across all of his companies, just as we watched with twitter, where he reduces the amount of investment into operating, expedites a push for output in the name of saving humanity, and then expresses that the damage left in his wake is menial.
Twitter became a cultural signal that in many ways was the most profound and progressive on Earth to date, for the way it brought together the most rich and sincere aspects of so many cultures from around the world, lighting up from those initial days when twitter first took hold into societies that brought each community’s most thoughtful and experienced to the table, to speak, and be accessible, and to share with each other collectively in a well rounded manner, where generally, anyone could see, participate, and grow with it. It was safe because people protected each other.
While that ideal was never pure, now in the private hands of Elon Musk it’s almost certainly over. Twitter may go on to become the largest social media platform in the world, moving up from it’s 500 million users to surpass Facebook’s 3 billion users, as an entertainment hub and wallet with steakable financial products including Bitcoin & Dogecoin, lower transfer fees, zoomed in directly from Starlink with its own web app store and AI advertising and marketing bing bang like Facebook but more, though the collective signal of a town square where the world’s collective truth moves forward, has been torn apart and dispersed almost overnight.
I am confident that Musk will make many new features in the journey towards the all-in-one app and many people will live their lives over the coming years tweeting each day about him and their experience with each new change he makes.
Meanwhile, all private information including all DMs are now available and open to self-described journalists, and Musk and his inner circle is looking through the content of private messages and using it for their own marketing and personal interest purposes. If it wasn’t already available, a developer could create a dashboard that allows him to see all the history from everyone, including DMs that have been deleted, since he only needs to program access to backups. Not only does that kill the DM feature for any culture that used it seriously in private, knowing what he is doing now, it also empowers Musk with his businesses to use that information privately for his own personal gains when engaging with others in the world of competition. While it’s easy to lay up at night wondering if someone would actually do such a thing, yes, Musk already showed that he is doing it, opening up DMs and drawing conclusions that he’s publicizing about that private information. I learned today one employee who was formal and devoted to supporting Musk had to literally move to another home due to the amount of death threats in the wake of Musk lobing threats and mobs at him.
So how does Musk do twitter? Twitter 2.0? Exactly unlike anything informed by an open protocol. Musk’s use of politics as the informing guide for his direction, outwardly aligning with far right ideals to form the policies and procedures of his social media platform is one possible explanation for what he’s up to, though it’s hard to unsee as a text-book example of a marketing ploy, stoking fires and trying to woo the next big group into thinking he’s all about their cause, and ready to fight for their rights, for $11 ($8 if you still use a flip phone).
Watching him doze the home that I loved has been an experience that feels horrible and helps me understand more about how important digital space can be.
It’s going to take effort to avoid twitter, Tesla and his other companies, since they are so integrated, likely to become even more-so. He’ll probably wake up one day soon and try to shift his marketing pendulum, maybe say he’s changing parties, or that he’s back to supporting some specific Democrats again to win back the numbers he lost, maybe eventually he’ll add Jack’s Bluesky plugin if they are still on good terms but as of today, it appears to be over.
Have you ever been on Truth Social, Trump’s social network? Just to have a look to see how messed up some people can be with their conspiracy theories? It’s definitely worth a gander to understand what exists and while I sometimes feel as if I should be looking at it more, so that I can be a witness, I just can’t. It’s not worth it for me. Let my study be narrowed then, I just can’t live my life thinking about the ins-and-outs of that part of culture without a specific reason, if something is worth breaking out of that eco chamber then it will find its way to me without needing for me to be there.
Twitter became that much of a silo too, almost instantly, a similar type of monoculture. If there is any possibility it wasn’t intentional, it was possibly because he was unwilling to pay the extra amount to do it right. End of an era.