I have seen the future … and it Tweets.
Twitter is, of course, the biggest tech phenomenon in the world right now. You can't go a day with reading a dozen new stories either about the company or the use of its technology. And like all such blazing comets in tech -- I've been around long enough now to see the same thing happen at HP (calculators), Intel (microprocessors), Apple (computers), Atari (games), Silicon Graphics (workstations), eBay (on-line auctions), Netscape (Web browser), Google (Web search), Facebook (social networks), Apple again (iPod and iPhone) and now Twitter (micro-blogging) -- the story starts to take on its own momentum, divorced from the company itself.
Just in the last few months, we've seen Twitterers posting Tweets from the wildfires in Australia to a live home break-in in California to the new president of the United States announcing his victory on election night. And trust me, this has only just begun. Even though the number of Twitter users is probably doubling every month (or lately, every week), the total is still only about 20-25 million in the U.S. and perhaps three or four times that in the whole world.
That means we are still at the tail end of the early adopter phase for Twitter. The real social breakout -- 100 million United States and 500 million worldwide users and all of the social transformations that will come in their train -- is yet to come. Remember the frenzy surrounding eBay when just about everybody you know started buying and selling on it? It's going to be like that for Twitter six months to a year from now.
For people who find themselves working for one of these companies during such a period it can be the single most exciting period they will ever know in their careers -- if they can remember much about it at all afterward. That's because the experience can be literally like being in the center of a whirlwind. Crucial decisions are made by the hour and on the fly. The company's story slips out of the reach of the company itself and is written by others. All of your friends want jobs, stock options and free products, and you pass the 40-hour work week mark sometime on Wednesday afternoon, and then press on through the weekend.
I have known people to go through this process with apparent aplomb, only to end up hospitalized when it is over, too exhausted to appreciate their new wealth and fame. I've know others who simply snapped as they approached the finish line and walked away before they got their due. And I've known still others who were the very embodiment of maturity and self-control while the whirlwind was underway, suddenly take their new wealth and blow it all in a display of poor judgment and irresponsibility.
When I visited Twitter's San Francisco offices Wednesday morning -- I was working on a profile of its founders, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, that will run this Saturday in the Wall Street Journal -- I truly expected to see some combination of the above when I walked in. Heck, even the company's headquarters, a converted warehouse, is just a couple blocks from that one-time heart of dot.com craziness, South Park.