Two days ago, TechCrunch received hundreds of stolen Twitter documents. After hours spent sifting through them, TC has brought a few to the fore — many of them detailing backroom meetings with Google, Microsoft and other heavyweights, as well as product planning and company goals. Prime among them: “be the pulse of the planet,” i.e. get to 1 billion users.
There’s way too much content to post and dissect here. Instead, here is a bulleted list of takeaways from the hacked documents — particularly notes taken during executive-level meetings these past few months (follow the links for the relevant docs):
– Fast facts: The Twitter TV show pitch did exist but was killed before much could be known about it; the revenue goal was pegged at $1.54 billion a year with $1.1 billion net earnings; and the objective headcount was 5,200.
– The pie in the sky goal: Get to 1 billion users, at that point Twitter would be like a central nervous system for the web. What’s unclear is how the company plans to pursue this goal — with execs throwing out nondescript ideas like “TV Twitter,” “website widgets,” and even “Kindle.”
– There’s an overarching sense that Twitter still doesn’t know what it wants to be or where it wants to go. Its leadership has taken several unsuccessful stabs at defining its goals in a mission statement, but none seem to really fit.
– The revenue model still hasn’t come together yet but can be most easily defined as “$1 per user per year” — at least that’s the goal. There is a recognition that it needs to grow revenue apace with its own expansion. One note reads “cost would kill us if we had a billion users tomorrow.”
– It’s been challenging to navigate a healthy but cautious relationship with Google. Twitter has had a lot of apprehension that its search tool could never rival Google’s ability to find the best tweets.
– Twitter is the most popular kid in the class; everyone from Oprah to Marissa Mayer to Al Gore wants a piece … or to become an advisor.
– Twitter has been shopping for investment bankers to manage a “transaction” — which TC assumes to mean IPO or acquisition.
– After abortive acquisition talks with both Facebook and Google, Twitter is solidly IPO focused, but is still open to possible exits. It resolved that an acquisition would only be acceptable if the current leadership maintains control.
– Twitter still sleeps with one eye open, worried that Facebook will devise some brilliant way to make the company obsolete. To fend off advances, the executives listed possible threats, like Facebook making status messages publicly accessible or ripping off Twitter’s interface.
– While Twitter makes no claims to being a search company, real-time search is clearly a priority that they just can’t seem to shake — or win at, for that matter.
– The company has touched base with Microsoft on a possible search advertising partnership, but the attitude of the team was fairly negative on this count with some members concerned that “getting into bed with Microsoft” could leave Twitter with a black eye.
– Twitter is pensive about the many fledgling startups that have sprung up on its platform. It fleetingly considered buying TwitPic but decided against it, offering support to a competing image provider called Twitgoo. Management regularly decided which of these enterprises to bless or not to bless. Now it’s CoTweet that’s potentially up for sale.
– Management is very concerned about keeping its workforce happy and productive, with high minded analysis such as employees “leave situations that are making them sad.” Someone present at a meeting even pitched the idea of a “happiness committee.”
As you can see from this rundown (and the documents linked to), there’s been limited coherence in how Twitter’s been approaching its major challenges. Then again, maybe you just had to be there.
The real drama surrounding the hacked documents, quickly dubbed Twittergate, actually concerns TechCrunch more than the micro-blogging site itself. Few details are known, aside from the fact that a French hacker with the handle “Hacker Croll” sent the documents and screenshots to TechCrunch after a French blogger, Manuel Dorne, refused to publish all but a few out of conscience.
TechCrunch went ahead and posted many more of the documents, causing quite a stir over ethics, privacy and the First Amendment. The site’s editor-in-chief, Michael Arrington, justified the decision by saying that he and TC’s attorneys worked closely with Twitter and its representation to release the information in a responsible fashion. Not only that, but TC was simply doing what many other news organizations do every day in breaking news and bringing obscure information to light.
“[C]ertainly, it was unethical, or at least illegal or tortious, for the person who gave us the information and violated confidentiality and/or nondisclosure agreements. But on our end, it’s simply news,” Arrington wrote on the topic.
Still, the site has drawn some fire from all sides, some accusing it of trafficking in stolen goods, others saying it was simply a mean thing to do. Regardless, there is probably more to come on further analysis and hopefully a detailed response from the folks over at Twitter. Stay tuned.