A Visit @Twitter

twitter sign

I’m going to take a wild stab and say that if I throw out the number “140”, for the majority of you, it’s likely that “Twitter” comes to mind. For the rest of you, Twitter is the hottest social media network to breakout from the pack in the last few years.

soMa Twitter door Push

During my trip to San Francisco, I played a little Twitter-tag with one of the staff folks who invited me to come to their headquarters in the busting area just south of downtown San Francisco for a quick visit the night before I left.

Having experienced explosive growth over the past couple of years, Twitter takes up a full floor of a nondescript office building in the south of Market neighborhood. I, of course, had an official rendez-vous – but they told me that people actually will show up because they want help with some issue with their account.

(Note: Don’t show up unannounced. If you do, you won’t make it past the front desk in the lobby. That said, they do strive to respond to customer issues quickly, which I can attest to. And another giant social media, who shall remain Faceless, could take a cue from them.)

Twitter door bird Twitter beer on tap

Twitter is full of young energy and is a good example of the American “go for it” attitude. When the idea took off, there was a bit of a learning curve as they raced to keep up with the rapid expansion, which kind of took everyone by surprise, including those of us who use it. However the company remains fairly small (they only have around 650 employees, at present), and they worked on the infrastructure and continue to build the network to handle the ever-expanding number of people logging in.

I walked around the office with Kris, and while they didn’t snap pictures of the programmers hard at work (nor the countdown clock to Halloween, which I guess is a big deal to the folks at Twitter, for reasons I’m not quite sure of – could it be all the candy? – I did see what else fuels them:

twitter coffee

Because the workplace is free-wheelin’, in the midst of the desks of the programmers tapping away on their computers is a thatched roof covering a small tropical bar, with a few bottles that were going untouched. Which is probably because it was only 7pm and they still had work to do – but I’m sure they make good use of them when winding down. And what’s an office without a DJ booth?

Twitter DJ booth

I tend to live in my own little bubble on Twitter, which is why I like it; because you can customize and ‘curate’ who you follow, engage various people who share your interests, as well as circulate information. And because I’m not the only one in the world using it, Twitter has gone global and there’s a #Britwall, which is actually in honor of their acquisition of Tweetdeck a British firm, which provides one of the various clients people use for Tweeting. (I use Twitterific.)

Twitter #britwall

Two things I did not know about Twitter: @LadyGaga has the most followers on anyone on Twitter, and that @JustinBieber is the hands-down favorite of the Twitter staff, because—well, I don’t really know. But there were plenty of mentions and homages to him dotted around the office. (And birds, everywhere.)

Twitter award 2008 Conan @Twitter

Another staff favorite (besides Lady Gaga, Justin, and hopefully now that they’re met me—me) is @Conan O’Brien, who used Twitter when dealing with an unforeseen career change to broadcast the events to his followers, bypassing other media and taking his messages to the masses.

Twitter cereal

One other thing I learned about Twitter is that there are no phones in the offices. Like, at all. The staff communicates solely through Twitter, via regular and direct messages. But the thing that impressed me the most was the White Board, which was started by the founder to communicate and build on the values of the company. I didn’t have time to read them all, but was impressed that at the top, it said “Write on Me!” and I’m thinking I should get one for my own apartment and start writing down goals, objectives, and aspirations. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up with 5,984,793 followers, like @Twitter has.

Related Links

Tips for Getting Started on Twitter (Food Blog Alliance)

In Case You Missed it…(Food for the Thoughtless)

Social Media (Food Blog Alliance)

10 Things You Need to Stop Tweeting About (The Oatmeal)

A List of Food Bloggers Using Twitter (Serious Eats)

Twouble with Twitters (Current.tv-Video)

How Twitter Was Founded (Business Insider)

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  • September 3, 2011 7:07pm

    Wow, what an interesting experience. I very much like the description of twitter and the photos, as it feels a bit like having visited myself. Also, it is very interesting to learn how such successful and inventive companies like twitter work. Being very much used to phone calls all day long I especially like the idea of just abolishing them and instead, using twitter.

  • September 3, 2011 7:25pm

    What a great field trip – btw I first started following you through twitter and your continually humorous and entertaining tweets led me to your site (I’m a bit slow and unhip… I’m always last to know about anything cool). Anyway, it’s a great way to build connections and even friendships. (of course I’m still on the learning curve). Neat to hear about the inner workings of twitter.

  • September 3, 2011 7:31pm
    David Lebovitz

    I’ve started using Twitter more like a telephone, as well as a replacement for e-mails, which need to get sorted, replied to, etc..it’s just so simple and it works. Plus as you pointed out @Sasha, it’s easy to connect with your friends and make new ones, too.

  • September 3, 2011 8:07pm

    Interesting insights, and curious to see why they have a collection of breakfast items. Do they have other type of foods? Do lot of staff work till the early hours of the morning? Or since breakfast is considered by many as the most important meal of the day Tweeter makes sure every meal is the most important meal of the day:)

    • September 4, 2011 5:04pm
      David Lebovitz

      They have a catered come in and make meals in their modest kitchen; I think the cereal (and beer) are for snacking and so forth. A lot of the staff puts in really long hours, hence the catered meals (!)

  • September 3, 2011 8:56pm

    What a cool visit!
    And I’m sure one of these days you’ll be up there next to @LadyGaga.

  • September 3, 2011 9:03pm

    Fun! I love this behind the scenes look at twitter. Very cool. Thanks!

  • kathleen
    September 3, 2011 9:54pm

    Fabulous! I’ve been in some other south of Market offices that really make your head spin, as this one does, especially in comparison to Mad Men era designs.

    • September 4, 2011 5:03pm
      David Lebovitz

      Interestingly, their offices are pretty ‘plain’ compared to some of the splashier places, I’d imagine. Since they’re growing so fast, I think they’re just concentrating on keeping the network up and expanding to handle the increased demand. But they have a lot of tasty ‘perks’!

  • September 3, 2011 9:58pm

    j’aurais adoré y aller. thank you to share :)

  • September 3, 2011 10:30pm

    Absolutely love Twitter, made so many great friends on there. I’m also thinking that getting a white board to write goals on is a great idea.

  • brent
    September 3, 2011 11:05pm

    A gastronomical tour of bulk cereal?

  • September 4, 2011 3:07am

    Sounds and looks like such a cool experience. Twitter seems to have a fun workplace culture.

  • September 4, 2011 4:59am

    So, does this make you a member of the Twitterati?

  • Beth Font
    September 4, 2011 8:13am

    I don’t Tweet – I have a toddler and a “tween” and that’s all the alliterative T things my life can handle at the moment. However, the pics & description of the culture there make me nostalgic for the heyday of software back in the mid-90s – the cereal, the personal signs/statements, the bar… God, I miss that! I’m probably too much of a grey-hair now for a company like that, but I’m glad to know someone is keeping the flame alive and doing unconventional stuff like foosball tournaments and birthday parades, like we used to back then.

    And for the record, I’ll bet you could get 5,985,793 followers – easy!!

  • Dee
    September 4, 2011 8:34am

    Sorry, but I hate Twitter. It’s the most over-rated, biggest time waster ever. Am proud to say I have never “tweeted” because I am not a bird.

  • September 4, 2011 9:15am

    LOVE the real people I have met via Twitter- lots of energy & creativity at your fingertips!
    maybe they can set up a Twitter mobile office so we can bump into each other in live time, too.

    • September 4, 2011 5:01pm
      David Lebovitz

      It is a pretty interesting way to communicate. Since there’s not much of a commitment, people can flow freely between messages and people with similar interests can confab. I think it’s a pretty great way to chat..

  • Gavin
    September 4, 2011 10:32am

    Twitter blackmailed SF; they threatened to leave town unless they got out of paying payroll taxes to the City. The weaklings on the Board of Supes caved. Not everything is fun and sunshine with them.

  • September 4, 2011 11:24am

    Thanks for doing that. I hadn’t yet even wondered, and now I don’t need to. It was, surprisingly to me, very interesting.

  • September 4, 2011 11:24am

    @david Just ‘got’ twitter, I love it and am frustrated when I can’t use tweet speak when leaving comments like these!

  • September 4, 2011 4:39pm

    Very interesting to see behind the scenes at Twitter and get a view on the culture there.

  • Suzanne Mathews
    September 4, 2011 5:06pm

    Twitter, Facebook, and texting cellphones are all reasons nobody can carry on a decent face-to-face conversation any more.

  • September 4, 2011 5:06pm

    Thanks for this David! Now I think I’ll go take a look and see if I can find a place for me on Twitter.

  • September 4, 2011 5:12pm

    How fun! I think we all wonder a bit about the ‘man behind the curtain’ of these websites or services we might use. What you found out is not surprising (reminds me a bit of the Google profile when they first started) in terms of the verve and practices. Great piece. Thanks for the insight. Toni

  • September 4, 2011 5:20pm

    Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for this bird’s-eye view and agree with you about the customer non-satisfaction motto on the nother social media site that will remain “faceless.” I gave up trying and just make it use of the tool when it works for me.

    The only thing I see is that (besides these other social network blurring of lines I’ve noticed–what is that Facebook thing like LinkdIn, but not?–cannot keep up with all of them)–twitter and Facebook seem to be merging closer and closer.

    I don’t really love getting notices in my email box every time someone mentions my name on Twitter or comments on a thread in Facebook that I was foolhardy enough to comment on. Such a disincentive. (That said it’s not like I’m madly being mentioned on twitter with my hundred or so followers!) And now twitter give us updates on what our follower are doing…who they are newly following…

    Do I need all this information? Not really, it seems to be bordering on the obsessive. But I suppose those who aren’t interested can just tune it out and those who are interested are grateful for the synopsis. But sometimes I wonder if, in the tinkering, they might eventually just fine-tune twitter or Facebook beyond the limits.

  • September 4, 2011 5:33pm

    Enjoyed having you be our ‘fly on the wall’ for us David. Having survived the huge Internet explosion several years ago and witnessed the out of control excess…it was fun to see cereal and hear of some beverages but not have to read about people playing pool or seeing photos of more over the top extravagances. They actually seem to work there!

    I am a bit of a Twitteraholic. I’ve made friends in real life from people I’ve met on Twitter, done business, shared the same wine with people all across the country during a Tweetup…and more. I even helped you with your feed if you’ll recall…all because of an online relationship that began with Twitter. I’m hooked. Line and sinker.

  • Oana
    September 4, 2011 6:07pm

    I had a hard time wrapping my head around the whole no phone thing…like none, it’s the future, I suppose. And I completely agree with you about the Faceless customer service, let them learn. Cool story.

  • Doukissa
    September 4, 2011 6:23pm

    Sounds like a cool place to work at least for awhile and the experience. Hate that there are no phones, since I like voice interaction and can better gauge what’s going on~~too impersonal for me w/o them. But I can see how much more work can be done without phones.

    Hmmmm maybe that’s what some of our gov’t offices are doing from time to time with their recorded messages: “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and dial again; that number is busy at this time. Better yet, send us a tweet!”

  • September 4, 2011 6:25pm
    David Lebovitz

    Nancy: I turned off all notifications from social media since when I want to see what’s going on there, I’ll go look, and we don’t need any more things in most of our Inboxes. So if you haven’t turned those off, there are ways to do it.

    Barbara: Yes, there weren’t a lot of signs of excesses there (well, maybe the DJ counter…) but that’s about it. It was pretty bare bones in a lot of respects. And thanks for the feed help – so yes, Twitter is a good way to get in touch : )

    Suzanne: That’s partially true, but on the other hand, I use Twitter for things to avoid emails and lengthy phone chats (I don’t like talking on the phone and would prefer to meet face-to-face for certain things.) So I think one needs to use things like Twitter to connect for some things, but it’s not a replacement for meeting up. Just like how I came to Twitter – I was in town and they invited me in, via Twitter, for an in-person meeting.

    Oana: I had some issues with things at the “other” social media service and while it’s free, it’d be nice if there was some sort of support when you have a real issue. (That said, I wouldn’t mind paying an annual fee to be on it, or to pay on a ‘per incident’ basis for support, when necessary.) I was pretty frustrating trying to get in touch with someone there and perhaps they’ve grown so fast, and so large, that they just can’t manage to do it.

  • September 5, 2011 10:03am

    Seeing that selection of cereal makes me miss college, particularly since cold cereal is an imported luxury in HK! That and the free flowing coffee.

  • September 5, 2011 1:36pm

    I love all the cereals they have! Amazing!

  • September 5, 2011 11:56pm

    How cool is that? I love that you got to visit Twitter! I wish I could say I’m adding to your “follow” base, but I’ve followed you for a while now!

  • Elle Eldridge
    September 7, 2011 5:58am

    Ohhh, this is great! My husband, a twitter engineer, enjoyed reading your book “Sweet Life in Paris”. He got it for me as a gift and then read it before I could get my hands on it. He also got me an ice cream maker and your Perfect Scoop book for Christmas in 2009. We love your blog and are huge fans of yours.

  • Lawrence Osborn
    September 8, 2011 7:59pm

    David, please let me thank you for mentioning the Peter Greweling book, “Chocolate & Confections”. I have been out of the professional loop for quite sometime and this book slipped by me. I apprenticed in Switzerland in the middle ’50s, pastry & confection. I still make chocolates as a hobby but also keep my skills, to give to friends at certain times of the year when they can be safely shipped.

    Were I now live if you want “bread” you have to make it yourself or eat the soft and fluffy junk that is passed off now as bread. I thank god that I know how.
    thanks again, lawrence

  • @kris
    September 12, 2011 9:12am

    This is great, David! Also, thanks for not giving away any of our secrets. ; ) Should be in Paris in the next month – hope to see you then.


  • Kathleen
    September 15, 2011 11:04pm

    Just read “Sweet Life in Paris”; Thanx for demystifing Paris. I’m an armchair Tourist for now. I like to do Google Earth to see what places look like before I go there…sort of like an out of body experience. It’s hard to leave Puget Sound…we’ve had the best weather in the USA this year and I can catch Dungeness with a rake!

  • September 21, 2011 2:03am

    Very cool to see the inside of Twitter!