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Twitter co-founder's bio brings too-polished pearls of wisdom

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2014 (1236 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone's self-penned bio has the prose of a good tweet. Entertaining, conversational and easily readable, Things a Little Bird Told Me fuses memoir, self-help and non-fiction study as Stone recounts Twitter's creation and meteoric rise as a communication tool.

And like a tweet -- particularly one trying to be three things at once -- it has limits.

Biz Stone's book could use more behind-the-scenes stories and fewer uplifting generalizations.


Biz Stone's book could use more behind-the-scenes stories and fewer uplifting generalizations.

There's a crafted positivity to Stone's voice and careful curation of personal stories that together keep the book from really gripping as a memoir.

It's possible Stone is the ever-smiling creative who can describe quitting Google to join a podcasting startup with, "Livy and I were instantly back on our way to credit card debt. But hey, it wouldn't have been a true leap of faith in myself if the stakes hadn't been high." In describing co-founder Evan Williams' firing, Stone muses "We'd built this company together. And he was my friend. It was very difficult to process what was happening."

But he's not relatable. In the rare moments of conflict Stone includes from Twitter's ascent and his financially chancy childhood, his reaction is never less than idealistic and exemplary. It's hard to see the user under the handle.

Partly to blame is his open agenda of empowering readers with lessons learned along his rags-to-retweets journey. Frequently pointing to his payoff for pursuing a passion, Stone gives over whole chapters to drawing out a memory's moral, from crashing his own prom to the code of assumptions he drew up for Twitter employees ("There's more smart people out there than in here," among others).

Nuggets of wisdom he draws are encouraging, uplifting generalizations. They're pleasant, but coming from an industry that's produced a handful of Biz Stones and many more crashes, they're easy to dismiss.

Stone's standout exception, which packs empirical evidence with a positive punch, is flocking. The hive-mind behaviour that birds have demonstrated for eons now finds expression in the human race, thanks to platforms such as Twitter, says Stone.

The results tilt to the constructive, from live-tweeting disaster reports to enabling democratic revolution. The proof isn't just in one man's story -- it's in daily headlines, and gives weight to Stone's refresh of the optimistic chant, "People are good at heart."

The discussion of how Twitter dovetails with human psychology, how features such as hashtags and retweets emerged, and how the company initially tried to remain government-neutral are fascinating, with in-the-room stories given vivid, tight retellings.

It's subject matter begging for more in-depth discussion from a Twitter co-founder, particularly the gripping topics of data mining and government surveillance. But Things a Little Bird Told Me veers away from the grit of meaty discussion to stay light, happy and simple.

Too bad. I can already get that on Twitter.


Matt TenBruggencate is a CTV writer who tweets from @tenbruggencate #plug


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Updated on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 8:06 AM CDT: Tweaks formatting.

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