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Early Twitter Team Member Dishes On Service's Origins

Dom Sagolla thinks he's the John Muir of electronic frontiers. He participated in the birth of blogging while he was in college and the birth of social media while he worked at Odeo.

But he was kicked out before Twitter officially became Twitter. Sagolla was head of quality at Odeo, the place where Twitter was conceptualized. While Sagolla was let go before Twitter officially launched, he later wrote a style guide on how to use the microblogging service called 140 Characters. Sagolla kept in touch with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and became an early user of Dorsey's second company, mobile payment firm Square, which he uses to sell 140 Characters.

Sagolla tells us what it was like being an early user of Twitter and Square.

Dom Sagolla

The Brainyard: How did it feel to be part of the initial team that came up with Twitter?

DS: I'm a writer. Helping to build Twitter felt just like writing. It felt like something I've always done: surround myself with people who are faster, more talented, and trustworthy.

The Brainyard: But you never got to stay, right?

DS: I was kicked out of Odeo before Twitter shipped to the public. Along with the lead engineer, the director of engineering, and our bizdev guy, I was head of quality and we were let go on the same day. Later they even kicked out Noah Glass, the guy who named it "Twitter."

The Brainyard: How has Twitter evolved?

DS: No one from the original team now remains, except Jack. You can read the introduction to my book for free online: 140 Characters. It contains this story and the early history of Twitter as a service and a company.

The Brainyard: What was it like thinking about Twitter in its early days?

DS: Cocreating Twitter is an American story of epic proportions. Hackers, activists, idealists we all were. It was a time of protest against the Iraq War, early adoption of smartphones, and the rebirth of short-form communication in the U.S. Our company was on the brink of dissolution, and the heat of that proverbial frying pan brought out the best and worst in each of us.

You know that feeling, when you've had an idea for a decade, and then you meet someone with that exact same idea only better? And then when you combine great ideas with 12 other entrepreneurs and actually build it? In like three months? But then it's so radical and precious that you have to keep it to yourself for a while? You know? And then you ship it, but no one understands you at first, because the idea is like so ahead of its time? I am so familiar with that feeling. And then the feeling of trying to get everyone to love it as much as I do.

The Brainyard: How did you know that Twitter would impact how we communicated with each other?

DS: I knew Twitter's power right away, and I said so. My research at Swarthmore College, then at HP Labs, and later at Harvard and the MIT Media Lab pointed in Twitter's exact direction. It's hard to describe what it's like to watch the future unfold right in front of you, but I'm used to it by now.

Twitter: The Early Team

I've participated in the birth of RFID and near-field communications, the tabletop quantum computer, and open standards like Ruby on Rails and PDF. Since Twitter, I've helped nurture Square and countless other social networks, but nothing has taught me as much as that time at Odeo thinking it all up with Jack, Noah, and the gang.

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