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Twitter's Biz Stone On Starting A Revolution

The co-founder of Twitter talks about how the service was used in Egypt to help organize the protests, and about the rumors that the popular microblogging service could be purchased by Google or Facebook.


Other segments from the episode on February 16, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 16, 2011: Interview with Biz Stone; Review of Allison Pearson's new novel "I think I love you."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Twitter's Biz Stone On Starting A Revolution


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is a co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone. March marks the fifth
anniversary of the first tweet and already Twitter's micro-blogging
service has helped change the world. With an estimated 200 million
registered users worldwide, it's been used by heads of state, astronauts
in outer space, protestors in Iran and Moldova, and it was an essential
communications tool for the protestors who just brought down the Mubarak
regime in Egypt.

As incredibly successful as Biz Stone is, he never completed college. He
dropped out of the University of Massachusetts, Boston to take a job as
a designer at the publishing company Little Brown. Then he helped create
and launch and was a senior specialist at Google, working on
the blogger team.

Regarding Twitter, Stone has said his goal is to connect people
everywhere to what is most meaningful to them.

Biz Stone, welcome to FRESH AIR. Did you ever think that Twitter would
be used in organizing revolutions and overthrowing dictators?

Mr. BIZ STONE (Co-founder, Twitter): Well, first of all, Terry, thank
you for having me. And second of all, of course, absolutely, that was
the plan all along.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: Definitely not. Twitter was a very simple side project,
almost to kind of scratch an itch, and it just grew and grew and grew
and grew, and it's become something that we of course never expected,
but we're along for this ride.

GROSS: What exactly was the itch?

Mr. STONE: Well, the key thing was we - my co-founders, Jack Dorsey and
Evan Williams, and I were working together on a different startup. It
was called Odeo, and it was a podcasting startup. And we just weren't as
emotionally invested in that project as we really should have been, to
be working on a startup, you know, to be taking that risk.

And Evan actually came up with this great idea where he basically said:
Why don't some of us just take two weeks and build something that really
is more up our alley and inspires us.

And I had become friendly with Jack during the time we were working at
Odeo, and we decided to pair up and built Twitter because we had been
thinking about SMS. It had started growing in popularity in 2006 in the
United States.

GROSS: Explain what SMS is.

Mr. STONE: SMS is just that very simple text-messaging that is on every
single mobile phone in the world. And it was very popular in Europe, but
earlier, and it was getting popular in the United States, sending text
messages to one another over mobile phones. And we thought: Is there
something interesting we can build on top of this network, this very
simple network that's on all phones?

And it turns out that Jack had had a long fascination with writing
dispatch software, the idea that you would write software for taxicabs,
and emergency vehicles and couriers, that would sort of paint a picture
of a city in transit, you know.

And my other co-founder, Evan Williams, and I had been building sort of
social networking and large-scale consumer systems that allowed people
to express themselves and communicate for - since 1999.

So the combination of all three of us together at the right time, and we
said, why don't we build this prototype? And that's what Jack and I did
in 2006.

GROSS: What were the first indications you saw that Twitter was being
used as an organizing tool in Egypt?

Mr. STONE: Well, actually, Twitter's use in Egypt goes back to something
that happened in 2008 that we heard about after the fact and we were
just sort of chilled by, and that was this photojournalism student named
James Buck(ph) who had traveled from U.S. Berkeley to Egypt specifically
to photograph protests. And he wanted to get great photos in Egypt.

And so he went out there on his own, and he kept missing all of the
protests that were organized. And so he asked some of his Egyptian
friends that he met there: How is that you guys are, you know, suddenly
organizing these protests so quickly and so efficiently? And they said:
Oh, we're using this tool called Twitter.

And, you know, James from the Bay Area and hadn't even heard of it, and
he's hearing about in Egypt. And so he gets on Twitter, and he's
suddenly plugged into this network. And so he's able to make it to these
protests, and there he is, taking these great photos.

And suddenly, he notices something is up. He told us later, a lot of
Egyptian police have moustaches, and the moustache quotient in the crowd
went up significantly, which got him worried. And he suddenly said
something doesn't seem quite right.

And he was grabbed, arrested by Egyptian police, thrown in the back of a
car, really starting to freak out. It's this young guy, realized they
hadn't taken his mobile phone from him yet and that he was on Twitter.

And so he sent out a tweet, and it was a one-word tweet, and the word
was arrested. Within about three hours, what happened was his friends
back home in California knew the situation that he was in, they had been
following his other tweets. They knew it wasn't - that it was serious,
that it wasn't a joke.

His friends called the dean. The dean called a lawyer. The lawyer called
the consulate, and within a few hours, James sent out another tweet that
was also one word, and that was simply freed.

And when we heard about this story and that Twitter was being used in
Egypt in 2008 to organize these protests, that was one of the early,
eye-opening experiences for us, that made us realize this was not just
something in the Bay Area for, you know, technical geeks to fool around
with and to find out what each other's up to, but a global
communications system that could be used for almost anything and

GROSS: What was your reaction when President Mubarak shut down the

Mr. STONE: You know, sadly, we've seen this happen. We've seen our
services - and when I worked at Google, Google services and specifically
bloggers - shut down before, but it was shocking to see the entire
Internet shut down.

I mean, that was just - you know, we'd talked about this before, you
know, privately amongst ourselves. You know, you can shut down a
service, and yet people will find ways to communicate. You can shut down
a specific service and people will find ways to communicate.

But we joked amongst ourselves you'd have to shut down the entire
Internet, you'd have to shut down the entire mobile phone infrastructure
if you really wanted to stop people from communicating. And then
suddenly, we have news that the Internet is being shut down.

And that was just like, you know, wow. It was just an amazing thing to
think about because you're not just shutting down communication among
people who may or may not be, you know, opposing your regime, you're
shutting down everything. You're shutting down commerce, you're shutting
down all communication among individuals, emergency communication,
everything. And that's just something that's mind-blowing to me.

GROSS: Now, didn't you come up with a way around that for Twitter?

Mr. STONE: Yeah, we worked with Google to create a system that allowed
people to call local phone numbers in Egypt and just speak into the
phone, and the voice would be then turned into text, and the text would
then be automatically tweeted out. So the normal phone systems were then
hooked into Twitter so that people could continue to push the
information into the Twitter network.

Once it gets into the Twitter network, it can spread virally across our
system, through mechanisms we've recreated such as Retweet, which allows
people to simply press a button to have a tweet go out to even more
people, things like that. So there are ways - there are seemingly always
ways around shutting down technology. People do find ways.

GROSS: So in this system, the speak-to-tweet system, you actually became
- Twitter became an active participant, not just a neutral conduit.

Mr. STONE: I think - I mean, together with Google, we allowed for the,
you know, the phone lines to become a way of allowing people to get
their voice out. It is important for us to remain a neutral technology
provider, but we do believe that the open exchange of information is
very important and can have a positive impact on the world. That's a
mission that we subscribe to and that we are committed to.

GROSS: So if a movement strikes you as being pro-democracy, anti-
authoritarian, you'll do what you can to help it get its messages out?

Mr. STONE: We'll do what we can to, you know, keep lines of
communication open for all people, I think is the key thing. I mean, it
really is a strong belief of ours that this open exchange of information
can have a positive global impact. And while we don't always agree with
a lot of the information that's being transmitted on Twitter, we still
feel strongly that it should be allowed to flow, to be transmitted.

GROSS: Don't you wonder, like, if al-Qaida is using Twitter, you know,
really to get its word out to its followers around the world?

Mr. STONE: Yeah, I don't wonder so much as I probably figure that
Twitter is open to everyone who wants to use it. And that's always been
the case in these large-scale systems that allow people to express
themselves and communicate like Blogger, which I helped work on with my
co-founder Evan Williams, and like another sort of social blogging
network that I created even before that, in 1999.

It's open to all, and that means it's open to both good and ill. And the
key thing that we've learned over the years, over the decade-plus of
working on these systems, is that it's important to allow everyone
access because for one thing, these systems tend to be self-policing.

When people are trying to spread misinformation, it generally gets
debunked very quickly, and the other things is, you know, just speaking
from a personal perspective, I'd rather have - you know, Twitter is a
very public and open forum. I'd rather have this bad stuff out there in
public for other people to see and track and watch, than for it to be
happening and festering in secret, where people can't see it.

GROSS: What are some of the techniques you've seen governments use to
try to do the best they can to control Twitter and to keep track of the
people using it?

Mr. STONE: I don't know that I've actually been, you know, privy to
government techniques for following Twitter. I would imagine they
wouldn't be too dissimilar from techniques that companies and
organizations would use to track what their consumers and what their
users are saying about their services, and that's something that we saw
very early on.

In the best-case scenario, they do that to improve their services. The
mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, actually is a very active Twitter user,
and he actually is constantly searching Twitter for, you know, how best
to help his constituents.

In a recent snowstorm, he was actually out there with a shovel,
collecting the requests for people to, you know, dig out their cars, and
he was going around shoveling people out of their driveways and calling
for plows and all this sort of thing.

So that's sort of a best-case scenario of a government official watching
what's happening on Twitter and just trying to help.

GROSS: Those were his Snowpocalypse tweets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: Right, exactly.

GROSS: Because Twitter has gotten so big and become such an integral
part of so many political stories, you've had to make some really
complicated decisions that you probably never expected you would have to

For example, the Obama administration asked you for information about
several people connected to WikiLeaks, including the founder, Julian
Assange, and the private accused of leaking the documents, Bradley
Manning. And you had - you and your co-founders had to ask yourselves,
what are you going to do?

So I know there's things you cannot talk about regarding this story, but
you do have a policy that you applied to this request. So what is your
policy on requests like this coming from the government?

Mr. STONE: Our policy is one that's very, very pro-user, in terms of
protecting their privacy. That's a privacy document that we publish on
our website before you sign up to Twitter, explaining that we want to
protect your privacy, and we will behave as advertised.

And so when we're asked to give over private information about users -
you know, and in many cases, it's the law, and it's something that we
have to do - what our policy is that we give the user time to react to
this request.

So if we've given 10 days to turn over the information, we immediately
notify the user, and we tell them: We've been asked by the law to hand
over this information. We would like to give you this time to fight it
on your own behalf and deny giving up this information. That allows us
to comply with the law, and it allows the user the ability to hold onto
their privacy if they need to. And so that's the policy that we follow.

GROSS: Now in this case, and I said the government asked you, it was a
court order. But in this case, the court order came with a gag order,
saying that you weren't allowed to tell anybody that they were the
target of the request. So what did you do? Did you obey the gag order,
or did you obey your own rules and tell them, notify them in advance
that they were being investigated?

Mr. STONE: Well, we were able to obey our own rules in this case because
the gag order ultimately was lifted, allowing us to go along with our
normal policy.

GROSS: Can you say more about that, or is that the limits of what you
can say?

Mr. STONE: That's about all I can say on that issue.

GROSS: My guest is Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter. We recorded our
interview yesterday. After the interview was recorded, I learned that
yesterday, lawyers for three of the people on the WikiLeaks case asked a
judge to vacate the order requiring Twitter to turn over account records
to prosecutors investigating WikiLeaks. We'll hear more of my interview
with Biz Stone after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just joining us, my guest is Biz Stone. He's one of the
founders of Twitter.

So in 2009, when there were student protests in Iran after the election,
the State Department in the U.S. asked Twitter to suspend scheduled
maintenance of its website because the administration wanted to make
sure the protestors - the Obama administration wanted to make sure that
protestors would be able to continue to use Twitter to organize and
communicate during the demonstrations.

So I'm not sure how used to getting requests like that you are, but what
was your thought process like when you were approached by the
administration to postpone maintenance so that students could continue
to use Twitter for its protests?

Mr. STONE: Well, that was an interesting day, actually. We had announced
the night before - I had put a little note in the user interface of our
website, telling people that, hey, at this time tomorrow, we're going to
be closing the service for a little while so that we can perform some
much needed maintenance. And we were just totally inundated with emails,
with tweets, with phone calls, everything you can imagine. People were
all telling us absolutely not. This is - you have to keep this service

One of the hundreds of folks who contacted us happened to be the State
Department. So it wasn't like, you know, there was a red phone ringing
in our office, and it was just the State Department calling us. There
was an overwhelming amount of people who were telling us it's very
important that you keep the service up at this time.

And we recognized that as, you know, part of our job, basically. You
know, of course we should keep the service up. So all we really did was,
with help from our network provider, move the schedule window to a
different time and keep the service up, which it should be up at all
times anyways.

But it was a particularly electric day, the idea that so many people
thought it was of such vital importance that we keep the service up. And
the key takeaway from me from that was - and this is something I think I
wrote on our company blog the next day - was that, you know, although
the State Department may have contacted us about this, it's important
that people understand that they don't have access to our decision-
making process.

We decided to do this because we thought it was the right thing to do,
and we had heard from so many people and so many users, and that's why
we reacted. But at the same time, it was obviously a stimulating day.

GROSS: Were you prepared for the kinds of intelligence decisions and
freedom of information decisions that you've had to make? I mean, these
are, like, major-level, like, you know, ethical, legal, political, moral
dilemmas that you face of profound importance.

Mr. STONE: Yes. Well, I mean, yes and no. I've worked with - like I
said, my co-founder, Evan Williams, and I and another friend of ours,
Jason Goldman, we've worked together very closely. We worked at Google
together on Blogger, before that another web-logging network I helped
start in 1999.

So it's been over a decade now of trying to support freedom of speech
and trying to create these global networks that allow people to express
themselves freely, and we've always, always erred on the side of freedom
of speech, and we've always had to fight for that, to a certain extent.

So to answer your question, I was somewhat prepared, having been working
in this field for so long, but I think Twitter has just made it so much
more intense. Twitter has managed to find its way into almost every kind
of political uprising that's happened since Twitter was around.

I mean, some of the earlier ones, revolts, if you want to call them
that, in Moldova, I came into work one day, and I got down to my desk,
and I saw that my email inbox was completely flooded. My phone voice
mail was filled up. And it was all the same question from, you know,
major news organizations around the world, and all of them essentially
asking me: Mr. Stone, what was your role in the Moldovan revolts?

You know? And I just - part of me was tempted to say, well, I wasn't
happy with that regime, so I went over here to this button I have here
on the wall, and I, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: But, you know, the truth of the matter is, I had to actually
look up what was going on in Moldova. So, I mean, there are things
happening all around the world at any given point in time and we find it
just incredibly meaningful work to foster this open exchange of
information and to watch as people around the world do their thing and
make the world a better place.

GROSS: My guest, Biz Stone, is a co-founder of Twitter. We'll continue
the interview in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Biz Stone, the co-
founder of Twitter. Twitter has become an essential communications tool
for protest movements. It helped the organizers of the protests in Egypt
bring down the Mubarak regime.

Now, we're recording this Tuesday, February 15th. I'm on the East Coast.
It's afternoon my time, but you're on the West Coast, so it's morning
your time, so you haven't had a chance yet to hear or read Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton's policy speech on Internet freedom. So let me
read or paraphrase a few parts of it that I think are relevant to
Twitter and see what you have to say about it.

Is that okay?

Mr. STONE: Great. Yeah. It sounds great.

GROSS: So she says that they're trying to prevent autocratic governments
from using the Internet to repress dissent. And she said last week the
State Department launched Twitter feeds in Arabic and Farsi, adding to
the ones in French and Spanish. Similar ones will be started in Chinese,
Russian and Hindi.

Quote: "This is enabling us to have real-time two-way conversations with
people wherever there is a connection that governments do not block."
Also, the U.S. continues to help people in oppressive Internet
environments get around filters, stay one step ahead of the censors, the
hackers and the thugs who beat them up or imprison them for what they
say online.

And here's another thing I wanted to mention to you, that the Obama
administration is awarding more than $20 million in competitive grants
to support technologists and activists working at the cutting edge of
the fight against Internet repression. This year they'll add more than
$25 million in additional funding. Quote: "We are taking a venture
capital-style approach."

Any reaction to any of things I just told you from the speech?

Mr. STONE: Wow, just that we agree with a lot of that, obviously. I mean
it almost sounds like a lot of what we say often internally to our own
employees. You know, I mean, like this idea that the open exchange of
information can have a positive global impact is being proven over and
over again around the world nearly on a daily basis - and for Secretary
Clinton to recognize that I think is a huge step.

You know, I mean people more and more are coming to rely on the Internet
and mobile phones as a key component in, you know, helping the world go
round. You know, the big thing for me, the big take away for me here
when I hear those comments is that we are now living in kind of an age
where there are five billion mobile phones. They all have SMS, they all
are capable of doing - of accessing the Twitter network. There are two
billion people who have Internet access around the world. All of these
people getting connected and sharing their information with each other
means that I can be waiting in line at the grocery store and I can take
out my iPhone and I scan the tweets and I can see what's happening
halfway around the world, and I can put myself in the shoes of someone
who is trying to overthrow an oppressive regime, and I can suddenly have
an empathy with that person that I would not otherwise necessarily have

And this is happening over and over again. And what it's resulting in, I
think, is people over, all around the world are realizing that we're not
necessarily just citizens of a particular state or a particular country,
but citizens of the world. And this is a growing feeling, and I think
that the Internet and social media tools are making the world a smaller
place and they're strengthening humanity and allowing us to feel this

And I think that's an incredibly important thing because this kind of
global alignment of thought among individuals around the world - think
about what we can do in the years to come if we are this connected and
we are kind of thinking along the same lines. And I think Secretary
Clinton is sort of highlighting that potential with her comments, and
that is just an extremely exciting thing to think about.

GROSS: Now, Twitter has been in what's described as low-level talks with
Google and Facebook about being purchased. So I don't know what you can
tell us about the status of those talks, anything?

Mr. STONE: Well, if you can me what a low-level talk is, that'll be

GROSS: That's part of question. What is low-level?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: But I want to know. Does that mean it takes place in the
parking garage at Twitter or what? Like, I have no idea what low-level
talks mean. I can tell you that Twitter is not for sale. We're not – we
don't have a shingle out on our front that says Twitter For Sale, B.O.
We're not for sale and we haven't been. And we're very, very interested
in building an independent company.

We've proven, I think, beyond a doubt, that Twitter is an important
communication medium used around the world. What we still have yet to
prove is that we can build a very successful business on top of this.
And for us, in addition to both of those things, we're kind of adding a
new layer of ambition for our team, and that is that we want to, we want
to have a positive global impact. We want to make a very successful
business out of this, and we want to have a lot of fun and enjoy our
work and do meaningful work along the way.

And for us, success is all three of those ingredients, and just having
two of them doesn't count. And so we're very committed to being an
independent company. Twitter's not for sale and we're - I haven't been
in any talks with anybody. No one's made an offer to me. So...

GROSS: That's why it's low-level, because you're not the one talking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: Yeah. So Terry, if you want to, maybe you want to make an
offer right now. I don't know. Maybe NPR...

GROSS: So does this mean you have not been approached by Google or
Facebook or...

Mr. STONE: I have not been approached, no.

GROSS: Okay. So you said you want to build a successful business model.
Twitter is considered, you know, worth billions of dollars. I think it's
valued at 10 billion, but its profits in 2010 was like 45 million?
Correct the numbers if they're wrong. I'm just telling you what I read.

Mr. STONE: Yeah, we're not – we're not valued at $10 billion. That's
just what people are writing in the newspapers, which unfortunately has
the negative aspect of my friends thinking I must have $10 billion. So
hey, I just read in the Wall Street Journal that you have $10 billion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I was hoping you were going to take me to lunch after this

Mr. STONE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. STONE: Yeah. That's just a completely made up evaluation. We - and
now with all this talk of $10 billion, I've forgotten the original

GROSS: Oh, well, I was talking about the business model. So I mean if
it's true...

Mr. STONE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Like forget the numbers if the numbers are inaccurate.

Mr. STONE: Right. Yeah.

GROSS: But you're valued at much more than the profits that you've
actually been turning.

Mr. STONE: Right.

GROSS: And it's hard for me to figure out where are the profits. Like,
unless you start putting ads on Twitter itself, like where do profits
come in, because you don't pay to send a message and you don't pay to
receive one, you don't pay to sign up, so like where's...

Mr. STONE: Right.

GROSS: How is it, you know, profitable? Where's the money?

Mr. STONE: Well, we're generating revenue today from advertising that is
very unique, and that's one of the reasons why a lot of people around
the world actually don't think we have advertising, is because what
we've done is we've followed this model that we like to call value
before profit. And that is building a system, building a network that is
of value to people around the world in their everyday life, in their
business, etcetera, and then applying a business model to that that
enhances that original value they're finding.

So businesses and organizations were finding value in Twitter right off
the bat. Airlines like JetBlue and Virgin America were using Twitter to
have these two-way conversations with their customers, to learn more
about their customers, to you know, to offer them deals, etcetera, and
they were getting a lot of followers on their Twitter accounts. And we
saw that since businesses were getting value out of Twitter, what could
we do to enhance that value? And that's when we came up with what we're
calling our promoted products, and that is the promoted tweets, promoted
trends and promoted accounts.

And you'll see companies, especially movie studios and others, buying a
promoted trend. And a trend on Twitter, for those who don't know, is a
word or a phrase that is suddenly being used more than any other word or
phrase across all 200 million accounts on Twitter. So it's something
that people are talking about. And you can buy a promoted trend. We only
show the top 10 but you can elevate one that's not in the top 10.

Recently, for example, during the Super Bowl, Audi was introducing a new
car and they had this Super Bowl ad at the end of which they put a
keyword with a hash – what's called a hashtag in front of it. That's
something that Twitter users also do. The hashtag is the pound sign on
your phone or on your computer. It's the same thing. At the end of the
commercial they said: hashtag progress is. And that indicated to anyone
who knew about Twitter to go on Twitter and tweet what you think
progress is. And what they also did was they bought that keyword as a
promoted trend and they bought the top promoted tweet.

So as a result, a Super Bowl ad, which is traditionally difficult to
measure in terms of impact, you have to wait until the Nielsen's come
out, etcetera, they were able to turn an ad into an online conversation
that to this day is still going on about what people think progress is.
And they were able to associate that sort of meme on Twitter with their
brand, and that was a very successful ad for them. So that was a way in
which promoted trends, promoted tweets and television sort of all fit
together. And that's the way we're making revenues right now and we hope
to drastically grow those revenues over the next year or two.

GROSS: So you're separating the promoted trends from what's trending and
what people are actually talking to each other about without the
intervention of a company, without a company buying space or...

Mr. STONE: Right. Exactly. Their native promoted tweet is just like any
other tweet except that the company has paid to have that tweet be
listed at the top of the other tweets, and that's clearly marked as a
promoted tweet so people know...

GROSS: Right. So I can tell what's an ad.

Mr. STONE: Right, exactly.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. STONE: Although what we also have created is something we're calling
the resonance algorithm, and that measures whether or not these tweets
are resonating with users, whether or not they're interesting to users,
whether or not people are engaging with these tweets. And if they're
not, we remove them, because the advertiser doesn't want that tweet in
the system and people don't want to look at it. So we're constantly
measuring the level at which these tweets are resonating with users so
that their resonating highly and so that they're very relevant, and so
that they're part of an overall good experience on Twitter.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Biz Stone. He's one of the
co-founders of Twitter.

We'll talk more about Twitter after we take a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Biz Stone, one of the
founders of Twitter.

Earlier you told us the story of how you and your two co-founders
created Twitter while you were supposed to be creating a podcast

Mr. STONE: Right.

GROSS: You thought that wasn't really what you were interested in and
you created Twitter. Once you created it, how did anybody know it
existed? Like, how did it catch on?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: Well, it didn't at first. In fact, for the first nine months
or so everyone just thought we were fools. You know, they made so much
fun of us and they said it was the most ridiculous they'd ever heard of
and all this other stuff. But that didn't matter to us, because I mean
one of the chief criticisms of Twitter early on was Twitter is not
useful. And I remember distinctly at the time my co-founder, Evan
Williams, saying, well, neither is ice cream. Should we ban ice cream
and all joy? No. And we were having fun working on this. This was
something that was very much up our alley and we were loving it. And so
even though people were criticizing it, at one point somebody called it
Twitter is the "Seinfeld" of the Internet, it's a service about nothing,
which I took as a compliment because I'm a huge "Seinfeld" fan.

But for the first nine months or so, Twitter didn't really pick up much
in terms of steam. You know, it was friends and family were using it at
our request. And it wasn't until March of 2007 that Twitter suddenly
kind of popped and came onto the scene and started to become

GROSS: What happened in March 2007 that was a game changer?

Mr. STONE: Well, in March of 2007 we went to a festival called South by
Southwest, which is widely known for its music and film aspects. But
just before those begin, there's an interactive portion and that's where
a lot of Bay Area geeks go when they show up and they network. And at
that time we had about maybe 50, 100 thousand people sort of system
testing it out. And this was the first time and the first – and the
right crowd that were able to see Twitter as sort of in the wild, so to
speak. And what we saw was really amazing. There was a couple of stories
that came out of that that particular week that were just really, really
big for us.

One, there was a lecture going on that I was attending, I was just
watching from the audience, and I noticed all of a sudden that all of
these people started getting up in the middle of the lecture and
leaving, as if the PA system had announced, you know, everyone leave.
But there was no PA system. And what it was was it was people using
their mobile phones and their laptops and Twitter to communicate that
there was a much more interesting lecture going on across the hall. And
so they silently got up and they moved across the hall as one.

Later that night there was a party, because this event is also about the
parties at night, and there was a guy at a bar who really wanted to be
able to talk more with his friends and it was too loud. So he sent out a
tweet that said this place is too loud, I'm going to this other place,
and he named the other place. And in the eight minutes it took him to
walk to this other bar, it had completely filled to capacity and there
was a line out the door. So his plan backfired, but what had happened
was his one tweet and then been received by his hundred or so followers.
They sent the same tweet out saying, hey, this is what we're doing, and
within eight minutes 800 people descended upon this bar.

And what was really amazing about that was that this was just a party
situation. But what if it had been something more serious? And the thing
that came to mind for me, and the thing that really got me fired up, was
this idea, if you think about it, of a flock of birds moving around an
object in flight. This is something that looks incredibly choreographed.
It looks beautiful. They just all move as one around a telephone pole,
for example. And it's not choreographed. It's very simply rudimentary
communication among individuals in real time that allows the many to
behave as one. And this is something we were seeing happening with
people. And this is the first time to my knowledge that people were able
to coordinate and move in real time like this. And for us this is just
sort of, you know, spine-tingling.

We went back to San Francisco I think two days later and that's when we
founded Twitter Incorporated, and that was the beginning of a series of
eye-opening events which would reinforce the fact that we were working
on something important.

GROSS: Do you ever get totally overwhelmed by information? I mean, you

Mr. STONE: Yes. Yeah.

GROSS: What's your threshold? Like at what point do you think, like,
make it stop? And what do you do when you feel that way? I mean your
business is information and the tweets - you know, if you follow people
on Twitter and if you follow a lot of people on Twitter, they just kind
of keep coming. It doesn't stop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STONE: Yeah. No, that was a key thing when we – I mean I'm
particularly, I have a low threshold myself. You know, I get so many
emails per day, I'll occasionally do what's called declaring email
bankruptcy, which is I just delete everything in my email and I tell
people if you had anything important, please resend. I just give up
because I see hundreds and hundreds of emails and they're - some of them
stretching back a month and I know that it's too late to do whatever
that person needed me to do.

And so when we created Twitter, we wanted to create a different set of
expectations. And that is, you follow the source of information you're
interested in. You glance down at them. They're 140 characters or less.
You scroll through them. You see what catches your eye. Maybe you click
on one, you read more about it. When it comes to interacting with other
Twitter users via at reply or direct message, there's not an inherent
expectation that you will get back to them like there is in something
like email. Why haven't you emailed me back? I sent you an email two
days ago. I still haven't heard back from you. The protocol is you're
supposed to email me back.

On Twitter, if you send an at reply to someone, you can look at it, you
can have a chuckle and you don't have to reply back to them, and they
know that, and so the expectation is different. So I feel a lot less
stress when I'm glancing through my tweets than when I'm looking through
my email, because I know that everyone in that email, you know, list is
waiting for me to get back to them. But everyone on Twitter would just
be thrilled if I were to reply to any one of them.

GROSS: Do you remember the first really big tweet? You've explained how
South by Southwest was the first time you actually really saw it in
action, but the first really memorable tweet...

Mr. STONE: When Obama tweeted that he had won the presidency. And that
was just, you know, sort of a mind-blowing thing because it was this
historic presidential election and here we had the man himself tweeting
and acknowledging it, and for us that was just a big acknowledgment of
our work.

GROSS: Well, I wish we had more time to talk. We're out of time. I want
to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. STONE: Oh, well, thanks for your interest, Terry. It's been awesome
talking with you.

GROSS: Biz Stone is the co-founder of Twitter. You can follow him on
Twitter at Biz, B-I-Z. And you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
'I Think I Love You,' David Cassidy

(Soundbite of music)


When Allison Pearson's first novel “I Don't Know How She Does It,” was
published in 2002, it made Pearson, who’s a columnist for the London
Daily Telegraph, the instant queen of Mommy Lit, a branch of women's
fiction devoted to the thousand and one ways frenetic modern middle-
class mothers can make themselves feel inadequate. Pearson's long-
awaited second novel has just been published. It’s called “I Think I
Love You.”

And book critic Maureen Corrigan says it's a welcome retreat away from
mommy land, fleeing backward into a refuge of a teenaged girl’s poster-
lined bedroom.

Here's her review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: Anyone who’s read Allison Pearson's comic novel about
middle-class working mothers called “I Don't Know How She Does It”
remembers the opening scene. It takes place in a kitchen in the dead of
night. An exhausted 30-something mom is busy distressing a cake she'd
picked up earlier at a supermarket, after her child sandbagged her with
the news that they were scheduled to bring in snack to school the next
day. The mom desperately wants the cake to look homemade because
otherwise the nutrition-obsessed clique of stay-at-home-moms at her
child's school will say nasty things about her mothering skills.

That scene was so dead-on in its depiction of the screwball anxieties
fueling the mommy wars, that it instantly signaled that Pearson's first
novel was going to be a winner. Her latest novel, “I Think I Love You,”
takes more time gathering force. For one thing, the subject is a bit
squirmy. Much of the first half of “I Think I Love You” excavates the
agonies of a 13-year-old girl living in Wales in 1974 who, along with
her friends, is absolutely smitten with pretty boy David Cassidy - he of
“The Partridge Family” fame.

Pearson's debut was a comedy with sociological heft, but a novel about a
tween girls' dreamy fixations on a pop progenitor of Justin Bieber seems
like a novelty tune; the B side of a chart-busting 45 single, as we
would have said back in the day. But, as the novel gets under way,
Pearson pulls off something extraordinary: She gives the subject of girl
cliques and the intensity of the love they lavish on their idols its
full due. For any middle-aged woman out there - and there must be
hundreds of thousands of us - who long ago cried herself to sleep
because Bobby Sherman or Donny Osmond or Davy Jones of The Monkees was
so cute and so out of reach, “I Think I Love You” is both an anguished
trip back to the mad possessiveness of puppy love and a respectful
acknowledgment that it mattered. As our heroine, Petra Williams, says,
looking back on her younger, David Cassidy-besotted self: Yes, it was a
kind of madness. It didn't last all that long, not in the great scheme
of a life, but while I loved him he was the world entire.

In 1974, Petra is a skinny, serious, dark-haired girl who frantically
paddles around the outer edges of a clique. Petra and her sometime best
friend, Sharon, enter the Ultimate David Cassidy Quiz sponsored by one
of the many fan magazines they read with the brow-furrowing intensity of
rabbinical students scrutinizing the Torah. If they win, they'll
actually get to fly to California and meet David. But while they're
dreaming big dreams, the next best thing happens. David is coming to
London, to a venue called The White City, to play what will be one of
his last concerts. The clique decides to go, which in Petra's case,
means deceiving her strict mother. Here's Petra offering a somber
reflection on the power of cliques.

(Reading) You chose the kind of friends you wanted because you hoped you
could be like them and not you. To improve your image, you made yourself
more stupid and less kind. As the months passed, the trade-off for
belonging started to feel too great. The shutting down of some vital
part of yourself, just so you would not have to sit on your own at
lunch. Now among friends, you were often lonelier than you had been

As affecting as the first part of Pearson's novel is, it's the second
part, set in 1998, when Petra is nearing 40 and the limping through a
divorce that really soars. It turns out that she and her friend Sharon,
who's become a great bawdy broad, really did win that David Cassidy quiz
years ago, although the congratulatory letter never got to her.

Through a loopy sequence of events, they get to go, now, to Vegas and
meet there weathered idol. It's a simultaneously joyous and terrifying
and melancholy pilgrimage. Youth has vanished, after all, and
everything’s changed, except for the one timeless question that Petra
and Sharon keep asking themselves almost up to the minute they enter
David Cassidy's hotel suite: what should we wear?

The poignancy and wry insight into the passionate yearnings of adoring
teens and the sadder but wiser women they become makes “I Think I Love
You” as infectious as one of those bubblegum standards that David
Cassidy used to sing during episodes of “The Partridge Family.”

I was about five years beyond being susceptible to Cassidy mania, but
nonetheless, I think I love Allison Pearson's “I Think I Love You.”

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. You
can read an excerpt of “I Think I Love You” on our Website,, where you can also download Podcasts of our show.

(Soundbite of song, “Girl, You Make My Day”)

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (Singing group): (Singing) I can't start my day,
girl, without thinking about ya. I wake up in the morning and you're
there on my mind. I've been dreaming about ya.

You start feelings running through my head...

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song, “Girl, You Make My Day”)

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY: (Singing) Whoa, girl, you make my day. You're the
smile on my face; you're the look in my eyes. You're every breath that I

Whoa, girl, you make my day...

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, we talk with journalist Charles Sennott.
He just returned from Tahrir Square where he was filming a documentary
on the revolution, which will be shown next Tuesday on the PBS series,
“Frontline.” It focuses on a young member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who
was one of the leaders of the youth movement.

Join for the next FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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