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Twitter’s Lost Co-Founder Noah Glass On Being Fired, Being Forgotten And Being Betrayed

Business Insider has an absolute humdinger of an interview with forgotten Twitter co-founder Noah Glass, where he speaks openly about his large part in the establishment of the Twitter platform, only to be pushed aside by Evan Williams.

Back in 2006, Glass and Williams were co-founders of Odeo, a podcasting platform, which suddenly looked like a terrible idea when Apple’s iTunes came along. Williams asked his team to come up with a different idea.

Alongside current Twitter Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey and developer Florian Webber. Glass created Twitter – he came up with the name (confirmed by Williams last night on Twitter here) – and Williams liked the product enough to put Glass in charge. Soon, it became his obsession, and Glass wanted to spin Twitter off from Odeo as its own company.

A few months later Williams, frustrated and tired of Odeo, bought the assets of the company back from the investors. Those assets included Twitter, Odeo was renamed Obvious, and Williams promptly fired Glass.

In the interview, Glass speaks (very) openly about his part in Twitter’s development, beginning with how it feels to be the Twitter co-founder that nobody remembers.

“I was not in the story, which in some ways was difficult to deal with in the beginning, since it was a massive labor of love and a massive labor to get it created,” he says. “To create the thing, to bring it into the world. It was a ton of effort and a ton of energy.

To not be included in the story was hard to swallow at first, but when I realized what was happening to the product, this thing I helped create, the thing’s not about me. The thing’s about itself. Twitter is a phenomenon and a massively beneficial tool and it’s incredibly useful and it helps a lot of people. I realized the story’s not about me.”

Throughout the piece Glass is both honest and humble, notably on the early days of Twitter and his relationship with Dorsey and Williams.

“I was looking at stuff like how people were communicating on MySpace and other social networking things and seeing how people were trying to communicate and seeing how systems weren’t really designed to do what people were doing with them.

Jack was someone who was one of the stars of the company and I got the impression he was unhappy with what he was working on. He was doing a lot of cleanup work on Odeo. He and I had become pretty close friends and were spending time together.

He started talking to me about this idea of status and how he was really interested in status. He developed this bicycle messenger status system in the past. I was trying to figure out what it was he found compelling about it. At the same time, we were looking at ‘groups’ models and how groups were formed and put a couple things together to look at this idea of status and to look at this idea of grouping and it sort of hit me – the idea for this product. This thing that would be called Twitter, what it would look like. This ad hoc grouping mechanism with non-realtime status updates all based on mobile phones.

There was a moment where it all fit together for me. We went back to Odeo and put together a team.”

On trying to spin Twitter off to a separate company:

“I felt like Odeo was crashing around me and I didn’t want Twitter to be. We had done a soft launch of it. I kept it really secret. I didn’t want anyone to know what we were working on as we were setting up all the technical aspects of it. Orginally, it was all running on my laptop on my desk. An IBM Thinkpad. Using a Verizon wireless card. It was right there on my desk. I could just pick it up and take it anywhere in the world. That was a really fun time.

At that time, even in the very early stages, I had this strange feeling that I had never had before – that this was something big. I felt it from the onset. People must have thought I was a crazy person because of the way I treated it. That may have been detrimental. I really felt strongly, more strongly than I felt about anything in the past and since then – that this is something massive sitting right here in front of us. All it needs is time to grow. I actually had done all the paperwork and was ready to roll. It was ready to go. That’s not the way it worked out.”

Glass came to the conclusion that Twitter became Williams’ company because he had the money and subsequently the power, but that he may no longer possess the vision to take Twitter to the next level. And maybe, despite Twitter’s success, he never had it.

“He’s no longer the CEO. That’s probably indicative. I think the way he works, and the way everyone works, is to validate it within your community. He saw his friends grabbing on to it early on and thought, ‘Oh, this is something.’ Whether he thought it was something big, I never really got that indication.

Evan and I are two different polar opposites. I am very passionate about certain things and I will get passionate about certain things I believe in. I’ll speak passionately and I’ll wave my arms and I’ll jump up and down and I’ll use energy to prove my point or create momentum around an idea. Whereas he’ll sit down, think about it, write it down, walk away. He’ll write a paper on it, come back and say, ‘This is my opinion.’ He’s very calculated.

I have to tell you that Ev wasn’t happy for a long time. He wasn’t happy with the structure before Twitter even happened. He was unhappy with the structure of Odeo. He was unhappy with the relationships with investors. Quite honestly, he didn’t want to be CEO of Twitter. I wanted to be CEO of Twitter.  In a lot of ways, he never wanted to be there. The whole time.”

On Biz Stone’s role:

“Biz was involved more than Ev. Ev wasn’t involved at all for the creation and launching of it. Biz got a lot of credit after writing a document describing what we were working on. He was working on a lot of other things too. I asked if he would write it because I needed the documentation for the lawyer. I needed something for the lawyer in order to describe the company I wanted to create around Twitter. He wrote the document for me and got a lot of credit, but I told him to write it and what to write.”

Glass has, understandably, very mixed feelings about what has happened.

“There’s a creation myth that everyone tells. Everyone is the hero of their own creation myth because they were there. They were in the limelight. They got to tell the creation story. I didn’t create Twitter on my own. It came out of conversations. I do know that without me, Twitter wouldn’t exist.

I did feel betrayed. I felt betrayed by my friends, by my company, by these people around me I trusted and that I had worked hard to create something with.”

And just in case you’re feeling skeptical, Evan Williams confirmed at least part of Glass’s story on Twitter last night.

I’ve cherry-picked a few of the highlights but I urge you to read the full piece as it’s packed with information, both about Twitter’s history and the (mounting) co-founder’s parts therein. My hat’s off to Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson for such excellent work.

And as Dave Winer observed, it may well make you look at Twitter in a very different light.

(Source: Business Insider.)

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