This guest post was written by Leonard Speiser, a founder at Twables, an application platform for Twitter that launched earlier this year. Prior to founding Twables Leonard worked at Trinity Ventures as an EIR. Before that Leonard co-founded Bix, a website that enables anyone to create, enter or join a contest. Yahoo acquired the company in February of 2007 and Leonard took on the additional responsibility of running the Yahoo Groups business. Leonard has also previously worked at eBay and Intuit, and has founded two other companies.
It’s 11 p.m. on a Sunday night when I notice that Twitter founder @ev has just tweeted about FB140, our company Twables’ days-old service that helps you find your Facebook friends on Twitter. Since our launch, I’ve felt like a surfer, waiting for a wave of users to start using our service. A few smaller waves have trickled through in our first days since launch, but Ev’s post represents something totally different. I mean, here’s someone who has more than a million followers and receives personal messages from Lance Armstrong.
I was beyond excitement until I realized a tweet from @ev has the force of nuclear explosion. And a nuclear explosion makes a very, very big wave. I quickly IM’d my only developer to warn him. Then I ran a Twitter search on Ev’s tweet and saw that it was getting retweeted. A lot. Between midnight and 6 a.m. alone, 170 people had retweeted him. “Frak,” I thought, “we might not scale.” For the next six hours, my developer began spinning up machines on Amazon, reworking our code and rolling it out overnight as we tried to ride the wave without having it crash down upon us. By then, we were doing more traffic in an hour than we had all week. Fortunately, he’s a killer Java programmer, and we’ve stayed afloat so far. By 6 a.m., exhausted, I reflected on three things I’ve learned since stumbling into development on the Twitter platform just two months ago.
1. Business hours are dead. 24/7 is the new 9 to 5. Real-time messaging means that anyone can start talking about your product at any time and that talk can snowball before you know it. I happened to see Ev’s post nine minutes after he sent it, but what if I hadn’t checked Twitter at all? Our site would have been down and a golden opportunity missed. As much as I love all the new technology (Amazon Web Services, Twitter APIs, Google Apps) that makes it possible for a two-person company to operate, it’s tough, if not impossible, for two people to be on call at all times. Perhaps this means that business guys like me are going to have to start wearing ops pagers (what? business people actually earning their paycheck?). How can you sleep for fear that someone will say something to tens of thousands of people that you really need to respond to. Is our only solution to never go to sleep?
2. The Borg has finally arrived. On Friday afternoon, I popped my head into Dave McClure’s office to shoot the breeze and mentioned a thought that Twitter was a bigger threat to MySpace than to Facebook. Before the words were out of my mouth, he had tweeted it, Dave-style. Instantly, people started to respond with their thoughts, and I realized that Dave was crowdsourcing our discussion before he’d even formed his own opinion. Will we all use the real-time world to have conversations? While Dave has the unfair advantage of a lot of followers, most of you are just at the beginning of your Twitter experience. I predict that you’ll join the Borg soon enough. The reality is that many of you are accustomed to asking those around you for advice. The difference is that now you’ll be able to accomplish your information-gathering process in minutes instead of weeks. Our company gets advice from users within hours of our initial launch and we are able to release changes for those users on the same day. If the dialogue with customers is now real-time, then the process of incorporating feedback needs to be real-time, too. Sorry big companies, life is about to suck for you!
3. The Patriot Act can’t hold a candle to Citizen Paparazzi. An hour before Ev’s post, I was talking to two friends about Twitter. They mentioned that a friend of theirs had tweeted about their two-year-old son a few times, which they characterized as an “unusual” experience. Celebrities will finally have their revenge as two out of every three of your neighbors starts tweeting about everything you’re doing. The Supreme Court will have to revisit the definition of “reasonable expectation of privacy” when a father’s kid tweets that daddy is reading Playboy in the bathroom. (That happened to a buddy of mine. Not to me. A buddy of mine.) This may not seem like a new phenomenon, what with YouTube videos and the like already starting this trend. However, the pace at which things spread is now so close to real-time that it almost erases the line between past and present. Real-time communication invites the world to experience your life with you, as it happens.
I don’t know if the world after Twitter will be better or worse. (For me, I think it will be better.) But when your tidal wave approaches, will you be ready to ride it?