Thanks to the movie “The Social Network,” everyone knows how billionaire Mark Zuckerberg came up with (or stole, if you believe the Winklevoss twins) the idea for Facebook. But what about other popular social media websites? How did the founders of companies like Pinterest, Twitter and You Tube hatch their virtual golden eggs?
Surprisingly, a little birdie did not whisper the idea for Twitter in its founders’ ears. The concept of a limited character messaging site began as a method to send status updates to friends using text messaging technology. The idea was suggested at a casual lunch in the park by an engineer munching on Mexican food with his colleagues from a podcasting company called Odeo.
Though it has since helped fuel political revolutions, Twitter began as a more frivolous application, according to a New York Times article on the company. “The founders likened Twitter to ice cream: not that useful, but “a fun thing for family and friends when they are not in the same place,” the newspaper reported in 2010, quoting Evan Williams, co-founder of the company with Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone.
The website was originally supposed to be called “status” but then evolved to twttr and finally twitter after a dictionary search to find a name similar to “twitch” or “jitter” that captured the essence of text messaging. “Twitter means a short inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds,” Dorsey told WNYC radio. “And we were like, that describes exactly what we’re doing here.”
The story behind the bird logo is also interesting. The original bird’s name was Larry the Bird, named after Boston Celtics basketball player Larry Bird, most likely because Boston-bred Stone was a fan of the hoopster. The current bird is simply known as Twitter bird. (See graphic evolution of Twitter’s bird logos here.)
In the case of Pinterest, founders Paul Sciarra and Ben Silbermann came up with the idea of a cyberspace bulletin board by accident. The venture capitalist and Google alum started a company called Cold Brew Labs whose first product, Tote, was a shopping application for cell phones. Though the app was ahead of its time, Silbermann noticed that users were sending images of products to themselves and saving them. He realized he could refine the process by creating a website that helped users categorize their saved images and share them with others.
“It makes total sense because we got the idea from a shopping app. You don’t shop for [particular items] you shop for shoes, you shop for dresses. You shop in buckets, so we were like OK, we need buckets,” said a source quoted by Business Insider concerning the category concept.
The name Pinterest is credited to Silbermann’s then-girlfriend (now wife, Divya Bhaskaran), who coined a portmanteau combining the words pin and interest over Thanksgiving dinner. The word interest was especially important because Pinterest users can create categories that transcend physical products, such as motivational quotes or short hairdos, which helped the site become more than just another shopper’s helper.
Meanwhile, the idea for video sharing site You Tube sprung from the frustration of co-founder Jawed Karim in 2004 after he had trouble finding videos on the web of Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction and the Indian Ocean tsunami. He and his two business partners — Chad Hurley and Steve Chen — were working on a flailing dating site called Tune In Hook Up when the three Pay Pal alum took a 180 and launched You Tube.
But that’s just one version of the story.
Another narrative that leaves out Karim altogether has Hurley and Chen hatching the idea for You Tube at a dinner party in San Francisco at which their friend was not present.
In still another version, You Tube began as a video sharing site for on-line auctions, but when the founders saw that people were also posting random videos to share with friends, they allowed their fledgling site to morph into a free for all.
Too bad no one was there to video what really happened.
More From This Contributor:
What’s in a Name? Business Names that Make Customers Feel Warm and Fuzzy
‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’ — Review of a New York Times Best Seller
How to Send Text Messages by Email