I worked at Twitter part-time starting June 2007. I've never talked much about this in public. I'm revisiting it because of the complete disaster Elon Musk has made of Twitter. His sabotage of the company has felt personal to me. It hurts to watch him destroy something I helped create. The recent API debacle particularly stings.

Early Twitter was chaotic without enough experienced engineers. I acted as a management advisor. I helped the engineers organize and the executives work better with engineering. I did some good but I've always wished I could have done more. In retrospect, I should have committed more time. I did enjoy a long insider relationship with some of the leadership and was of some help that way.

The most useful concrete thing I did was what we called "Nelson's graphs". I made some simple measurements of performance like tweet delivery times. Post a tweet to one account and see when it shows up on another account's timeline. (Note this graph shows an average of 15 minutes!)

Simple but useful. It was a clear view of whether the site was working and ended a lot of arguments. These days we'd call this basic devops but in 2008 it was still a novel idea. My graphs kept running for several years even after they leaked to the press.

I grieve for Twitter now. I grew to love it over the years and was an enthusiastic user. Musk has ruined Twitter both culturally and technically. I suspect Twitter will survive in some new smaller, crueler form. But I've moved on to Mastodon and that's working for me.

  2023-01-17 19:43 Z

Is 2012 the last time the Summer Olympics will primarily be a television event? Will the Internet finally take over?

On my desktop I’m flipping between Archery, Fencing, and Judo streaming live from NBC’s excellent live streaming site. Fourteen live sports; some fully produced, some unenhanced, all with decent camera work and live editing and 1080p streaming. And all enhanced by tweet streams, and articles, and background stories, and blessedly free of the inane chatter of sports personalities and stupid tape delays. If I missed something there’s archive; full events, highlights, analysis, whatever I want online. I can also watch live video with NBC’s iPad app or use the tablet to get extra info while watching the TV. It’s all pretty great, I don’t even mind having NBC as the intermediary.

What’s missing from all this Internet viewing is the sense of a TV event, the whole family gathered around the electronic hearth watching something together. There’s still no great solution for playing Internet video on the big TV. It’s sort of doable as a hack but Internet-on-TV isn’t a mainstream thing, so it’s not a real product. Will it be by 2016? I sure hope so.

But streaming the video is easy; the real problem is producing an event for Internet. The main program needs to be edited, boiling down 100 hours of a day’s events to a 3 hour program. But it also needs to preserve some of the liveness and variety that is the hallmark of web surfing. And then mix that together with Twitter so I can share the experience in real time with folks all over the world. Tall order.

It’ll be interesting to see what emerges out of this year’s Olympics as media producers figure out how to integrate the Internet into event programming. I’m impressed with what NBC is delivering online this year but it feels transitional, like the very beginnings of something new.

  2012-07-28 18:36 Z

Tweetchive is a little hack I made to show various views of a user’s 3200 last tweets. The coolest thing is the map view, there are also buttons for text, pictures, and links. It’s not a complete product but I’m not sure if I’ll put more time into it and it’s useful enough to share. I was inspired to build this by All My Tweets.

I made this because I write a lot on Twitter and wasn’t satisfied with their archive presentation. It’s awkward to find old tweets by text content. And the geodata is mostly invisible, there’s nothing like my map. So I used the API and built my own archive view!

I launched this now because I fear this kind of hack will soon be harder to do. Twitter has signaled heavily for over a year that they’re uncomfortable with products that use the Twitter API to build competing clients. That stance makes some business sense but I worry they will make non-threatening projects like mine difficult. If Twitter puts more restrictions on the API I hope they do something else to make a person’s own tweets easily accessible to them (including old tweets). Twitter is the steward of our content, they owe us archival access.

The implementation is a client-heavy Javascript app. My server just sends static HTML and Javascript. The browser does unauthenticated API fetches via JSONP and uses localStorage to cache data for repeat visits. The Javascript source is pretty readable if you’re curious. It’s remarkably fast despite being bloated and unoptimized. The key thing is none of the twitter.com traffic goes through my server, keeping everything very lightweight for me.

Update July 24: the Twitter CEO has gone on record saying "We're working on a tool to let users export all of their tweets".
Disclosure: I have a financial interest in Twitter
  2012-07-24 23:24 Z
I've taken a lot of crap for my various blog posts about how TechCrunch is not journalism. So I'm feeling a little vindicated today that the CEO of TechCrunch's parent company agrees with me, in the newspaper of record of all places:
We have a traditional understanding of journalism with the exception of TechCrunch, which is different but is transparent about it.

The new CrunchFund is the big drama of the blogosphere today. If you've followed Arrington's career it won't surprise you, of course he thinks he can be the editor of a major tech publication while also investing in tech companies. He did it for years, with varying levels of disclosure quality. It's part of the package along with the shoddy editing, the ignorance of basic concepts like off the record, the crazy personal vendettas. Arrington's a blogger. A very effective, powerful blogger. He's not a journalist. (Not that he disagrees: NYT, TechCrunch comments).

The frustrating thing is there is some actual good journalism at TechCrunch. I feel bad for the good reporters there: apparently they feel bad, too. I'd like to call out MG Siegler (aka parislemon) in particular for regularly writing well researched stories with insight and accuracy.

Maybe a real news outfit will hire the good folks out of TechCrunch. Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have excellent blog-style tech coverage with proper journalistic methods and ethics. They should hire everyone away from the AOL clown car as soon as their acquisition lockups expire.

  2011-09-02 17:47 Z
The Internet is at a dangerous inflection point. Facebook Connect is quickly creating a monopoly on identity. Sites are increasingly requiring Facebook logins now: Techcrunch comments and turntable.fm early access are two examples. And many more sites like TripAdvisor now promote Facebook over their own logins.

As a user the Facebook Connect experience is great. I see a familiar blue button, I click it, and I'm done. No creating an account, no coming up with a new username and password, no entering specific data. And it's not just a login, many Facebook integrated sites give me a better experience with access to my Facebook social network. For site owners the advantage of Facebook connect is clear: good user experience, less code to manage, and access to Facebook data.

The problem is that Facebook is creating a monopoly. That's a huge risk to every other company on the Internet. It's bad for users too, we're losing the ability to use pseudonyms online. And while Facebook's technical execution is excellent the company has demonstrated over and over again its willigness to act unethically towards their users. We don't want them controlling user identity.

There is a terrific technical alternative to Facebook Connect: OpenID. The tech works well and it's open, letting users and companies choose their identity provider. But despite some four years' headstart it's never succeeded in being adopted widely like Facebook Connect has. And while I like competing login systems like Sign in with Twitter, identity is too important on the Internet to let any proprietary solution dominate. Our ecosystem needs a productive open standard. I still think OpenID is sufficient, but I'm in a dwindling minority.

  2011-06-13 16:45 Z
Once again we're reminded that TechCrunch is not journalism, just a rumour and speculation blog unwilling to do the work required to get stories right.

Around 1am July 7 TechCrunch posted What the Hell Happened to the Free Version of Google Apps. The first sentence asserted "The free version of Google Apps is history.". And later, "they just killed the Standard product entirely." The sourcing was Arrington's own observation that the link to the free option was gone from the web page. And the post said "We're emailing Google for comment." (Note the present tense; did he email just when the post was published, in the middle of the night?)

The story turns out not to be true. An update appeared on TechCrunch several hours later from Google explaining "In experimenting with a number of different landing page layouts, the link to Standard Edition was inadvertently dropped from one of the variations". And there the link is, back again on the front page. In other words, TechCrunch rushed to publish a story before bothering to check any facts. Not doing any investigation, not giving the subject a chance for comment. Just speculating on the basis of one observation. It's nice for TechCrunch to at least update the story with some actual facts after publication (including a snarky retraction) but the damage has already been done.

For a second and much uglier example of TechCrunch's journalistic practice, there's the story of whether last.fm colluded with the RIAA to expose its users to prosecution. TechCrunch said they did, last.fm strongly denied it, then TechCrunch came back with a followup three months later. This second post from TechCrunch isn't bad, it has actual sourcing (albeit anonymous) and a bunch of detail. Only last.fm and CBS both denied it again. And TechCrunch is so compromised there's no way to know what to believe. The story is completely tainted. (The Guardian did a great opinion piece about this debacle.)

Why do I care? Because I care about journalism and I care about truth. And because TechCrunch is influential and is taking over the role that tech journalists used to fill. And the process they follow doesn't safeguard the truth. The Google Apps and Google PC false stories just cause confusion. The last.fm story did real harm to their business. Journalistic practice comes out of decades of experience in acting ethically and working to get the story right. It kills me to see an important blog throw all that out.

Update: Arrington responded to my criticism in Techcrunch comments. He's now asserting "It was a removal of the links to see how conversions to paid went." He also told me to "Go kick a cat or something. You'll feel better afterwards." Guess he's having a bad day.
  2009-07-07 18:04 Z
I've been writing this blog for over six years always to satisfy an audience of one: myself. But I'm vain and am curious what parts of my blog others like. Thanks to Google Analytics I now know my most-linked posts:
Why SOAP Sucks
Four years of web API development frustration boiled down to 500 words.
Google search history and privacy
Alarm at a new Google feature. I'm not as concerned about it as I was when I wrote this post.
Goodbye, Google SOAP search API
Learning Google turning off my once-loved search API. My comments about "discipline" were considered news to Google watchers.
Games imitating war imitating games
Call of Duty 4 remixes Iraq. Waxy gave it link love, but a lot of the links are search engine gaming. One of the spam pages has a funny picture, though.
Hostile movie theaters
A guest post from friend Marc, a fine cranky rant I'm in total agreement with.
Helping spiders find your new home
Deeply nerdy post about migrating a website to a new domain. Glad this is well linked, it should be useful.
Why Bloggers aren't journalists
My attempt at being controversial calling Techcrunch out for sloppy reporting.
Another gamer emoticon
The usage of <3 to express affection. BoingBoing liked it. Breaking emoticon news: <8 is the opposite of <3, presumably as rhyming slang.
My most linked posts are pretty varied, but generally technical. When I talk to people in person the posts they remember most are the ones about Paris; no one seems to link to those though.
  2008-03-23 23:11 Z
Erick Schonfeld's TechCrunch blog post today tries to cover the new $199 Linux PC being sold at Wal-Mart:
Our Crunchgear colleague John Biggs has an item in the NYT today about Wal-Mart's $200 Google PC that runs a version of Linux called the Google Operating System.
There are two important facts wrong in this first sentence. It's not a "Google PC", it's the gPC. And it doesn't run the "Google Operating System", it runs gOS, a project of Dave Liu. In fact, as near as anyone knows Google has no involvement with the development or marketing of this PC. TechCrunch reporting otherwise is a significant error.

Journalists make mistakes too; why's TechCrunch blog post not journalism? First, the story TechCrunch posted is really just a quote from someone else's story with a bit of unsupported speculation tacked on. Fine for a blog post, not good journalism. Second, despite lacking any original reporting it still gets fundamental facts wrong. Real journalism involves editors who should catch something so embarassing before going to press. Either this post wasn't edited before publication or else the editor didn't think it'd be important to verify something as significant as an entry by Google into the consumer PC market.

On the good side, the blog post comments are great. The third comment gets the story right and there are links further down to good coverage on Wired and ZDNet. User comments are something blogs do better than journalists.

I feel bad picking on TechCrunch for the second time in a week. The issues I'm pointing out aren't just them, it's a lot of blogs. TechCrunch is just a highly relevant target given their influence. People increasingly think of TechCrunch as being like news reporting. It's not. It's an excellent blog.

Some blogger want to do actual journalism? Go research who's collecting the ad referral revenue from ad clicks via gOS' browser. I don't know, but I'm betting it's not Mozilla.

A disclaimer of sorts: I haven't worked at Google for over 18 months. I have absolutely zero inside knowledge about gOS, Everex's products, or any Google plans for creating hardware or operating systems. I'm just reading TechCrunch.

  2007-11-02 02:46 Z
I stirred up some trouble with my post about TechCrunch misusing the term "off the record" or burning their sources. Some reactions: Brian Ford, John Gruber, JD Lasica, Scott Lawton, Dave Winer, even Valleywag. Nothing from TechCrunch themselves. I'd love to hear Arrington explain what "off the record" means to him. He's probably been too busy having off the record conversations in Hawai'i.

Most of the discussion has been about my provocation that "blogging is not journalism". Unfortunately it's a hackneyed discussion, my fault for using a false dichotomy to rile my readers (call it yellow blogging). Of course there's a continuum between stream of consciousness blogging and authoritative journalism and it stretches across media. Traditional journalists aren't perfect. And unsourced rumour blog posts can be amazing scoops.

What bothers me is when blogs do reporting in ignorance of decades of established journalism ethics and practice. Journalistic rules have value. How you treat a source is important; burnt sources stop talking. Authoritative sources make a story much stronger; otherwise you're just blogging rumours. And avoiding or disclosing conflicts of interest matters; if not, you appear biased. It's great that blogs are aggressively reporting rumours and stories. But please, bend the rules of journalism thoughtfully.

One advantage of the blog world is that bad reporting can be corrected by other blogs. Even so, I believe powerful blogs like TechCrunch have special responsibility to be careful in their reporting given their influence and appearance of authority. As Winer notes it's rare for someone in the tech world to publically criticize TechCrunch because of the threat of repercussion.

Thanks to Andy and Philipp for their discussions
  2007-10-26 17:17 Z
I wrote a rather strongly worded blog post against bnet, a c|net property. It looked to me like they were keyword spamming Google with business keywords, particularly when I got a garbage page as the #1 result for a search.

Stephen Howard-Sarin, a VP working on BNET, was kind enough to write and explain that some of what I thought was spamming was actually a simple bug:

We had a Reuters story about PIMCO on BNET, and it got tagged like other content. But our contract with Reuters only allows us to keep a story live for 30 days. At the end of the period, we pulled the story but Google had index the story and the tag-listing page by then. So when you went to find it, you got a crappy error page.
Fair enough! I apologize for assuming malice in what was just a simple mistake. I'm still not wild about bnet's aggressive cross linking and keyword URLs but frankly if I ran a content site like theirs I'd be doing some of that too. For me the line is drawn at intentionally fooling search engines into sending traffic to you even when you don't have content. bnet wasn't deliberately doing that, so I withdraw the accusation of spamming.

Completely coincidentally, rumour has it that Google has recently altered its ranking algorithms for link weighting. I've got no idea what Google has done or if it would affect link structures like bnet's, but I note that today the lousy bnet page is no longer on the first result page. Maybe Google just got around to reindexing the page.

Many thanks to Mr. Howard-Sarin for being polite and professional. It's been a good reminder for me to elevate my own blog standards. I'm a bit embarassed at my use of the word "scumbag."

  2007-10-25 00:47 Z