An Insider’s History Of How A Podcasting Startup Pivoted To Become Twitter

Long before it was credited with changing world politics, Twitter was the side project at a podcasting company that was about to lose its customers to Apple.

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.

What that leaves out is the contribution of Noah Glass, who came up with the name Twttr and championed it within the company. (For those who want extra credit, here’s a detailed playback of the complicated history.) Instead of tapping Glass to run Twttr, Williams fired him, and a revisionist corporate history took hold.

At any rate, when Twttr first launched, not everyone knew what to make of it. Michael Arrington, then of TechCrunch, wondered about the privacy implications of each user having a public page that showed all of his messages. He concluded, “If this was a new startup, a one or two person shop, I’d give it a thumbs up for innovation and good execution on a simple but viral idea. But the fact that this is coming from Odeo makes me wonder–what is this company doing to make their core offering compelling? How do their shareholders feel about side projects like Twttr when their primary product line is, besides the excellent design, a total snoozer?”

Anyone who listened to Arrington’s investment advice missed one of the biggest opportunities of the past decade. Odeo’s team pivoted to fully embrace the 140-character side project. The rest, as they say, is history (in progress). In this episode of The Pivot, –the least famous member of Twitter’s original team–explains in detail how the shift from Odeo took place.

As for Noah Glass (@noah), whose profile description reads “i started this,” he hasn’t posted to Twitter in more than a year.

About the author

Adam L. Penenberg is a journalism professor at New York University and author of several books.