Alfred Hitchcock would have loved the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. Birds gathering everywhere, painted on the wall in flocks, perched on the coffee table, stitched on pillows and framed on the wall with a thought bubble asking employees to please tidy up after themselves.
In a droll nod to shifting technology, there’s a British red telephone booth in the loft-like office that you are welcome to use but you’ll have to bring in your cellphone.
I was here on a simple quest: curious to know if the inventors of Twitter were as annoying as their invention. (They’re not. They’re charming.)
I sat down with Biz Stone, 35, and Evan Williams, 37, and asked them to justify themselves.
Me: You say the brevity of Twitter enhances creativity. So I wonder if you can keep your answers to 140 characters, as Twitter users must. Twitter seems like telegrams without the news. We now know that on the US President’s trip to Trinidad, ABC News’ Jake Tapper’s shower was spewing brown water. Is there any thought that doesn’t need to be published?
Biz: The one I’m thinking right now.
Me: Did you know you were designing a toy for bored celebrities and high school girls?
Biz: We definitely didn’t design it for that. If they want to use it for that, it’s great.
Me: I heard about a woman who tweeted her father’s funeral. Whatever happened to private pain?
Evan: I have private pain every day.
Me: If you were out with a girl and she started twittering about it in the middle, would that be a deal-breaker or a turn-on?
Biz (dryly): In the middle of what?
Me: Do you ever think, “I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?”
Biz: If I said I was eating a hamburger, Evan would be surprised because I’m a vegan.
Me: What do you think about the backlash to Twitter on the blogs? Isn’t that a bit like the pot calling the kettle black?
Biz: If people are passionate about your product, whether it’s because they’re hating or loving it, those are both good scenarios. People can use it to help each other during fuel shortages or revolts or earthquakes or wildfires. That’s the exciting part of it.
Me: Why did you think the answer to email was a new kind of email?
Biz: With Twitter, it’s as easy to un-follow as it is to follow.
(They’re spilling past 140 characters now, but it must feel good to climb out of their Twitter birdcage. Evan has to leave. Biz and I continue.)
Me: Don’t you get worried about being swallowed up by Google?
Biz: They don’t swallow you up. They call you up.
Me: Why did you call the company Twitter instead of Clutter?
Biz: We had a lot of words such as “Jitter” and things that reflected a hyper-nervousness. Somebody threw “Twitter” in the hat. I thought: “Oh, that’s the short trivial bursts of information that birds do.”
Me: Oprah unleashed mayhem in the Twittersphere last week when, in her first tweet, she greeted “Twitters” instead of “Twitterers”.
Biz: I’m still kinda old school. We’re twittering, and we’re all twitterers. And we write tweets. The only thing I don’t love is twits.
Me: Would (William) Shakespeare have tweeted?
Biz: Brevity’s the soul of wit, right?
Me: Was there anything in your childhood that led you to want to destroy civilization as we know it?
Biz: You mean enhance civilization, make it even better?
Me: What’s your favourite book?
Biz: I loved Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid.
Me: But you’ve helped destroy mystery.
Biz: When you put more information out there, sometimes you can just put a little bit of it out, which just makes the mystery even broader.
Me: When newsprint blows away, I want a second career as a Twitter ghostwriter. Which celebrity on Twitter most needs my help?
Biz: Definitely not Shaq(uille O’Neal). Britney, maybe.
Me: Gavin Newsom announced his candidacy for governor today on Twitter and elsewhere. Does that make you the new Larry King?
Biz: Did he? I didn’t know.
Me: Have you thought about using even fewer than 140 characters?
Biz: I’ve seen people twitter in haiku only. Twit-u. James Buck, the student who was thrown into an Egyptian prison, just wrote “Arrested”.
Me: I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is there anything you can say to change my mind?
Biz: Well, when you do find yourself in that position, you’re gonna want Twitter. You might want to type out the message “Help”.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Möbius Strip will be back in May. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Maureen Dowd is a ‘New York Times’ columnist