Isaac “Biz” Stone, co-founder and creative director of Twitter, and his company are hard to describe in 140 characters.
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In front of an audience of over 80 students, Stone, who also helped launch blogging services Blogger and Xanga, spoke at a packed Morse College Master’s Tea Tuesday on how to channel entrepreneurial spirit into daily life. Stone sketched out the origins of Twitter, an information service that allows users to share messages of up to 140 characters, described his youth in a self-proclaimed “therapy session” and articulated the ethos of his growing company, while sharing life advice with students in the audience. Though some students raised concerns about the usefulness of Twitter and the direction the company is taking, Stone made a case for the unique role he believes the service will play in the transfer of information.
If the website’s traffic is any indication — there are over 100 million tweets a day, according to Stone — Twitter has made a serious impact in the tech world.
“This is someone responsible for making Facebook an old timer”, Master Frank Keil said as he introduced Stone.
Stone first entered the world of web start-ups in 1999 with the launch of Xanga, he said. In 2003, he followed his friend and co-founder of Twitter Evan Williams to Google. But the transition was not straightforward.
“It’s a little difficult to get a job to get at Google if you don’t have a degree in anything, let alone computer science,” he quipped.
Although he left Google in 2005 to help launch the online multimedia directory Odeo — which was acquired by New York company Sonic Mountain in 2007 — with friends, Stone said he was never emotionally invested in the project. It took until 2006, when he met software architect Jack Dorsey, for him to find something to get excited about. The pair developed a Twitter prototype in two weeks.
It was at the music and interactive media gathering, South by Southwest, in 2007, that he fully realised the enormous potential of Twitter, Stone said.
“South by Southwest was the first time Twitter was out in the wild,” Stone said. “Everyone started leaving from a panel discussion all of a sudden — turns out someone had tweeted that the lecture across the hall was way better.”
Since then, Twitter has been one of the first news outlets for much of the world’s breaking news on natural disasters and politics, Stone said.
Stone said that protesters using Twitter to organize themselves during the 2009 civil unrest in Moldova was a perfect example of the platform’s power.
“I had reporters from the New York Times asking me ‘What is your role in the Moldovan revolt?’” he said. “I was tempted to say that I didn’t like the regime, but in fact I went on Wikipedia and looked up what Moldova was.”
Drawing from his experiences at Twitter, Stone gave students dictums for living life on an accompanying PowerPoint. As pictures symbolic of key events in his life flashed by, Stone told students that opportunity can be manufactured, creativity is a renewable resource, and in order to succeed spectacularly, one must be ready to fail spectacularly.
Daniel Tay ’14 said Stone’s talk changed the way he thought about Twitter.
“People think it [Twitter] degrades the way we receive and examine different types of information,” he said. “But I think Biz showed how it can enrich our experiences.”
Andrea Lucido ’12 was particularly interested in Stone’s discussion of how he created opportunities for himself, she said.
Stone’s entrepreneurial advice was well-received by Hans Andersson ’10 and Benjamin Au ’10, who are launching their own web start-up this November. Andersson said what he found most inspiring was how Stone’s vision looked beyond just profits.
“[Twitter] changes in the way people interact with machines, the way they interact with each other, and the way they interact with the world — that’s what’s amazing”, he said.
Twitter was introduced publicly as ‘Twttr’ on July 15, 2006.