Founded in late 2006, Twitter provides a communication tool that lets users post 140-character-or-fewer updates on their current activities or thoughts, noteworthy links on the Web, or public conversations. Twitterers can be found all over the world, posting updates 24 hours a day, but this photo essay will take you inside the Twitter offices, in South Park, San Francisco, where programmers try to turn the constant connection provided by the Web and cellular networks into a tool that some people find indispensable.
Twitter cofounders Evan Williams (above right) and Biz Stone discuss upcoming changes to the company’s service in its office’s main meeting room. Williams and Stone are veterans of the first dot-com boom and note that starting a company today is much easier: a product can be developed by fewer people and rolled out faster. This has led to a mass of startups that release products in “limited beta,” a period in which early adopters test features, and startup engineers watch how the infrastructure holds up. Today’s startups can wait longer before they are funded, maintaining their autonomy and ability to change course. Twitter, a side project spun out of Odeo, Williams’s former podcasting company, was prototyped in a few weeks. Stone maintains that the idea behind Twitter wouldn’t have fired up a room of venture capitalists: before seeking money, the company had to show the service in action.
Photography by Justin Fantl
Sixteen people work at Twitter, most of them writing code that determines what users see when they log on to the service’s Web page, or how a message is instantly routed from, say, the company’s Web servers to thousands of cell phones throughout the world. Recently, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory updated nearly 10,000 people (or “followers,” in the Twitter patois) during the Phoenix Mars lander’s “seven minutes of terror” as it descended to the Martian atmosphere.
The main work space at Twitter is dominated by what is essentially one long desk with people working on both sides. Usually programmers sit quietly at their workstations, but occasionally there’s a flurry of activity.
Like the offices of many Silicon Valley startups, Twitter’s is silent as programmers type on keyboards and stare at screens.
But Twitter is particularly quiet due to lack of work space partitions. To have a private conversation on the phone, for instance, cofounder and CEO Jack Dorsey (below) must go to a different part of the office.
Reportedly, Twitter recently received $15 million in funding on top of an earlier $5 million funding round, and this month the company will move into a larger, less quirky space about a block away. The money is badly needed for more than a larger lunchroom, however.
The number of Twitter users has grown in the past year, and during events that spark a lot of twittering–such as technology conferences–popular users are constantly posting “tweets” to thousands of people. This puts strain on the underlying message-routing architecture, which, the Twitter founders admit, wasn’t built to do such heavy lifting. Twitter’s new funding will allow it to hire more employees who can quickly and competently reconstruct the service to scale to ever larger numbers of people.