Google built some of the first social apps for Android, including Twitter and others


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Here’s a tidbit of startup history that may not be widely known outside of the tech firms themselves: The first versions of popular Android apps, like Twitter, were built by Google itself. That revelation came about via a new podcast with Twitter’s former senior director of product management, Sara Beykpour, now the co-founder of the AI news startup Particle.

In a podcast hosted by Lightspeed partner Michael Mignano, Beykpour reminisces about her role in Twitter’s history. She explains how she began working at Twitter in 2009, initially as a tools engineer, when the company employed only around 75 people. Later, Beykpour moved to work on mobile at Twitter around the time when other third-party apps were growing in popularity on other platforms, like BlackBerry and iOS. One of those, Loren Brichter’s Tweetie, was even acquired by Twitter to form the basis of its first official iOS app.

As for Twitter’s Android app, that came from Google, Beykpour said.

The Twitter for Android client was “a demo app that Google had created and gave to us,” she said on the podcast. “They did that with all the popular social apps at the time: Foursquare … Twitter … they all looked the same in those early days because Google wrote them all.”

Mignano interjected, “Wait, so back up; explain this. So Google wanted companies to adopt Android, so they build you apps?”

“Yes, exactly,” Beykpour responded.

Twitter then took the Android app that Google built and continued to develop it. Beykpour was the second Android engineer at the company, she said.

In fact, Google had detailed its work on the Android Twitter client in a 2010 blog post, but much of the press coverage at the time didn’t credit the app to Google’s work, making this a forgotten bit of internet history. In Google’s post, the company explains how they implemented early Android best practices within the Twitter app. Beykpour told TechCrunch that the post’s author, Virgil Dobjanschi, was the main software engineer.

“If we had questions, we were supposed to ask him,” she recalls.

Beykpour shared other stories about Twitter’s early days, too. For instance, she worked on Twitter’s video app, Vine, (after returning to Twitter from a stint at Secret), and had been under pressure to launch Vine on Android before Instagram launched its video product. She met that deadline by launching Vine roughly two weeks before Instagram Video, she said.

The latter “significantly” affected Vine’s numbers, and, in Beykpour’s opinion, was what led to the popular app’s demise.

“That was the day the writing was on the wall,” she said, even though it took years to eventually shut Vine down.

At Twitter, Beykpour led the shutdown of Vine’s product — an app still so well-liked that even new Twitter/X owner Elon Musk keeps teasing about bringing it back. But Beykpour thinks Twitter made the right decision with Vine, noting the app wasn’t growing and was expensive to run. She admits that others may see it differently, perhaps arguing that Vine was under-resourced or didn’t have leadership’s backing. But ultimately, the closure came down to Vine’s impact on Twitter’s bottom line.

Beykpour also shared an interesting anecdote about working on Periscope. She joined the startup right as it was acquired by Twitter, and after leaving Secret. She remembers having to officially rejoin Twitter under a fake name to keep the acquisition under wraps for a time.

At Twitter, she also talked about the difficulty in getting resources to develop products and features for power users, like journalists.

“Twitter really struggled to define its user,” she said, because it “used a lot of traditional OKRs and metrics.” But the fact was that “only a fraction of people tweet,” and “of the fraction of the people that are tweeting, a subset of those are responsible for the content that everyone actually wants to see,” was something that Beykpour says was difficult to measure.

Now at Particle, her experience building Twitter is informing strategy for the AI news app, which has the goal of connecting people with the news they care about that is going on around them.

“Particle is a re-imaging of how you intake your daily news,” Beykpour says on the podcast. The app aims to provide a multi-perspective view of news while also providing access to high-quality journalism. The startup is looking to find another way to monetize reporting beyond ads, subscriptions or micropayments. However, the specifics of how Particle will do this are still in discussion. The startup is currently talking with potential publisher partners on how to compensate them for their work.

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