For a book about Twitter, it would be apt to keep this review under 140 characters, but I’m far too wordy and this book was far too good for that.
Nick Bilton’s Hatching Twitter was the first book I read in 2016 and it was a perfect start. Hatching Twitter was full of drama, betrayal, and power dynamics. It was also fast-paced and riveting.
It’s impossible to not compare this book to The Social Network, the film about the tumultuous founding of Facebook. The tagline of the movie is “you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” and I’ve come up with a few possible taglines for the book:
“You don’t get to 200 million users without losing every single friend you have.”
“The male ego creates monsters.”
“Who let these guys inadvertently change social media, news, and the world?”
The book follows the four founders of Twitter — Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey, and Biz Stone — as they stumble their way into creating one of the greatest websites of all time.
At the beginning of the novel, they’re a group of separate-yet-connected Silicon Valley tech nerds chasing fame, evading loneliness, and trying to make their mark on the world. By the end, each of the four founders have been ousted from the company they created and most are no longer on speaking terms with each other. It reads like a Shakespearean tragedy (minus the murder) — a testament to Bilton’s writing and reporting.
The book’s structure — short vignettes focusing on each of the founders — mirrors the theme and plot: each character has their moment before another character steals the spotlight (or CEO role at Twitter).
The core power struggle is Ev and Jack’s fundamental philosophies of what Twitter was. Jack believed it was a way to update one’s status, to focus on the “me” and “I,” not the collective “we.” Whereas Ev believe it was a way to learn about other people — what they were doing and where they were. It seemed like the smallest difference in vision, but it was everything. And, like Bilton, I agree that Twitter would not exist without both of these philosophies. Ev and Jack are the yin and yang on which Twitter was founded and the bedrock of everything that has happened since.
It’s amazing how much I felt for some of these men and how little I felt for others. The amount of empathy I felt for Ev and Noah was only matched by my disdain for Jack. Each of them are smart, passionate, power-hungry, tech-saavy, and — perhaps above all else — lonely. It is the loneliness that drives them to create the web’s ultimate symbol of connection: Twitter.
“There he would teach himself how to write code, his only friends the crickets he could hear gathered around the garage cheering him on as he learned to speak a language only computers could understand.”
“Noah wanted to succeed, to break radio and put it back together again.”
“If you were able to look closely enough at Commander Hadfield’s photo, zooming into the intricate web of city streets, houses, and office, buildings, the parks and beaches, you would be able to see Jack, Ev, BIz, and Noah wandering the city — separately, together.”
This book read as quickly as a Twitter timeline and that’s a compliment. It’s a portrait of a company and the four men who founded it, and the ways they hurt each other (consciously or unconsciously) to get to the top. These men display a type of ambition that I cannot frankly understand — the ambition that rots you from the inside out. Hatching Twitter was an amazing read that gives a glimpse into the brutal, bloody history of one of the greatest websites ever created, and the men who destroyed themselves and each other for a taste of infamy.