Before Twitter was Twitter, Twitter was Twttr. And before that, Twitter was Odeo, a podcasting company.
Making sense of Twitter’s history is a bit like trying to follow a discussion on Twitter: It depends on who you listen to.
What everyone agrees on is that it started out in 2005 as Odeo, a podcasting company founded by Evan Williams. When Apple iTunes moved into podcasting, Odeo found itself going nowhere fast, and so it needed to pivot. Here’s where it gets murky. The official story is that one of Odeo’s engineers, Jack Dorsey, had developed a messaging service that allowed instant updates; Williams gave back $5 million in seed capital he had raised to his investors, and Twttr (vowels were added later) was born…
As with many web innovations, Flickr, the site that became synonymous with online photo sharing, started out as one idea only to pivot to something completely different.
Ten years ago, newlyweds Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield were developing a massively multiplayer online game called Game Neverending. Both were early bloggers with a creative streak and a flair for literature, and were intrigued by the concept of a virtual world ruled by social interactions, a precursor to World of Warcraft and Second Life. The way Fake (her real name, which has caused countless hassles at airports) once described it to me, Game Neverending sounds pretty far out. Part whimsy (a player would find a wombat whistle, blow it and baby wombats would cuddle up against her) part meta-reality: Users could work alone or together to create a business or product, raise venture capital, hype it, and everyone would grow rich. Players could cheer up one another by sprinkling magic sparkle powder in a crowded room. You can see screencaps of the game prototype here.
It’s only appropriate that Eric Ries is the subject of the first video for Fast Company’s new series: The Pivot. He’s the author of a best-selling book, The Lean Startup, and the man who made the term “pivot” part of the business vernacular. During the course of his entrepreneurial adventures, he realized that some of the most iconic companies of our time—Twitter, YouTube, Groupon—had abruptly changed course before they achieved success. If they hadn’t, Twitter would have stuck with audio podcasting, YouTube would have been a video dating site, and Groupon would have continued organizing political protests (and you likely would have never heard of them). Virtually every startup he could think of had pivoted at one time or another. Ries’s observation quickly morphed into a kind of Moore’s Law for startups, which he believes are almost certain to change course before becoming successful.
Before Twitter became a microblogging sensation it was a podcasting business. YouTube’s founders were convinced they’d hit the jackpot with a video-dating site. PayPal’s original mission was to beam IOUs from Palm Pilot to Palm Pilot. Flickr grew out of a massive multiplayer online game as a way for players to drop photos into text messages. Groupon emerged from a community promoting political action while online flash retailer Fab.com came out of a failed gay social network called Fabulis. Instagram’s founders created a check-in technology called Blurbn before settling on photos. Pandora was a B2B music recommendation service. Yelp transitioned from email recommendations from friends to a local search and user review web site.
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Graphicly, one of the early leaders in the burgeoning digital comics distribution market, today announced plans to shutter its marketplaces for iPad, iPhone, and Android and refocus its business on its digital publishing platform. In a brief, informal email, Graphicly CEO Micah Baldwin said the company sees better opportunities in helping content creators navigate the increasingly complex e-book publishing landscape.
Citing recent business results that showed Graphicly’s self-publishing platform growing at over 300% per month while the digital comics business has increasingly consolidated around rival ComiXology, Baldwin and his team decided to shift gears. “The digital content space doesn’t need another storefront,” said Baldwin. “However, creators of graphic literature need better ways to reach the market through e-books rather than apps.”