Since its inception, our generation has struggled to pin down an answer to the question, “What is Twitter?” I’ve seen attempts at describing Twitter as microblogging, a messaging platform, a broadcasting tool, a social network, an information network, an interest graph, and real-time communication. Twitter, itself, has used phrases such as, “the world in your pocket,” and more recently, “a global town square.”
That it hasn’t (yet) been holistically and easily describable in a single phrase is part of the beauty of Twitter to me. It does so many things for so many people. Whatever adjective or metaphor used, I think of Twitter as a service. Because that’s how I’ve always seen it. It’s a service driven by the people and operated for the people. And it is literally in service to people around the globe.
Twitter is people-powered. It has always been about people. The way people connect to each other, they way they converse and interact, what people share, what they’re doing, what they’re thinking… and what they love. Twitter is unique and wonderful not because of the service itself, but because of the people who use it, and how they use it.
That over 500 million tweets get pushed out each day is a technical marvel. But so much more amazing are the stories of how Twitter has been (and continues to be) used. I’m enamoured and fascinated with these stories that continuously unfold on Twitter. Yet none of them would happen without the people who unite together around particular moments of time, big or small, and share those moments with their friends, their followers, and the world.
A series of moments
Small moments on Twitter are fascinating, because they reveal tiny bits about the people who share them, and in aggregate, reveal entire patterns of human behavior and emotion. Whether it’s the mundane update about what someone had for breakfast, or that they’re late for school, or that they had toilet paper stuck to their shoe for an hour before a friend pointed it out… Those small moments are real, humanizing, and pings to the world that a person is alive, is functioning, and is a normal human being.
Big moments on Twitter are also fascinating, either as a participant, or as a passive observer. Celebrations, sports matchups, popular entertainment, or newsworthy events bring massive amounts of people together. Twitter sees huge spikes in activity as people share in those moments together. Through Twitter, these moments offer the reinforcement that even if you’re watching an event alone, you’re not alone in experiencing it. In these moments, we share in the roar of the crowd in moments of victory, we unite in hope or heartbreak in moments of tragedy, and we make and record history together.
I love how people can gain a new voice with Twitter. It has given me a louder and farther-reaching voice than I ever thought possible. And while I can only physically be in one place at one time, I love how Twitter distributes my awareness of what’s going on nearby or far away. At any moment, I can instantly know what’s going on in the next room, in the next town, or in a country halfway around the world.
My history with you
I joined Twitter, the service, two years before I interviewed at and joined Twitter, the company. So I was familiar with the ins and outs of the product before I joined the team. When the idea of leading design at Twitter was first pitched to me, my thought was, “What would a designer do with 140-character text messages?” That’s basically what I knew it to be. But once I got to speak with @ev, @biz, @goldman, @gregpass, and @bs, I realized the vision for Twitter was much bigger than simple character-constrained status updates. And that it had the potential to become something big and meaningful within the world. With those realizations burning in my mind, I had no doubts that I wanted to help shape what Twitter could become. Even though at the time, it felt like I was joining the company “late in the game,” almost three years after the original idea of twttr had hatched.
As a Twitter user, I have witnessed this simple communications tool used to help unlock long-locked doors, to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity, to tear down walls of oppression, to alter the way businesses attend and respond to customers, to connect people in ways never before thought possible, and to democratize the creation and flow of information around the world. I have met and interacted with so many incredible people because of Twitter. And I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible from simply observing and occasionally participating in the conversations that unfold here.
As a Twitter employee, I have witnessed a growing family of co-workers who care deeply about their craft, their teammates, the integrity and purpose of the service, and the people around the world that Twitter serves. One of Twitter’s core values for the past several years has been, “Grow our business in a way that makes us proud.” I couldn’t be more proud of the way Twitter as a company has conducted itself as its presence and impact around the world has grown. I have seen this core value demonstrated over and over and over again through the tireless work of my colleagues, and their desire to always do right by the very people who use, depend on, and are delighted by the service every day.
My, how you’ve grown
Fast forward to today. This day. My last as an employee of Twitter. But far from my last as an active participant in this global ecosystem. It’s been an honor to serve as Twitter’s creative director for the past five years. To join at what I now see as a relatively early time period. To form and grow a design team and establish the principles on which it operated. To attract and hire and get to work with people more talented than me. And to see a team, a company, a service, and millions of people using it grow into the beautiful wonder that Twitter is today. This. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I still can’t believe how fortunate I am that it was offered to me.
It’s a cliché in our tech industry that companies and founders start with a vision that includes the grandiose notion of changing the world. What Twitter has enabled, is enabling, and will continue to enable is nothing short of just that. As Biz says, Twitter is not a triumph of technology, it is a triumph of humanity. It all comes back to people like you and me who use the service, and what we continue to do with it. There is no other platform that offers what Twitter offers, and there is no other service that continuously reveals the collective pulse of our planet.
Twitter, the product, has a ton of momentum behind it. The teams at Twitter are in great shape, and the people on these teams are thinking of and executing on some of the best ideas I’ve seen in my time here. So it’s a good time for me to call my leg of the journey complete. To step out of the way. To let go of something I love so dearly. And to let it thrive and grow into something even bigger.
Thank you, Twitter, for allowing me to help guide you for a small portion of your big and wondrous journey. There’s a great distance ahead of you. And you’ve only just begun.