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The Twitter map

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 6, 2013


Jack Dorsey, the billionaire co-founder of Twitter and, more recently, Square, sits at a long table at the Rhode Island School of Design's Market House.

He's dressed in black jeans and a black pullover. And he'll soon head over to the RISD Auditorium to deliver a lecture to faculty and students about technology and design. But first, I have a question for him.

He's already told the reporters gathered here that he didn't set out to launch a company and make piles of money. He just wanted to see Twitter exist in the world.

I want to know what that means. I want to know where it came from. I want to know the origin of the microblogging site that's powered revolution in the Middle East and NBA trade rumors in America.

Here's what he says, #LightlyEdited:

Well, my parents grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. They never left the city. They didn't fly to the suburbs. They believed in the city and the urban environment and the diversity that it presents.

I grew up in that environment and I loved it. I love cities. And I became obsessed with maps. And when my parents got their first computer, which was a Macintosh in 1984, I was fascinated by it because suddenly you had this potential to put a map — and actually move the map — on screen. So that's how I got into programming. I didn't become a programmer because I wanted to become a programmer. I wanted to play with maps.

I've always had the attitude that you do whatever it takes to get what you want. And what I wanted to see was a more alive picture of the city — something that is living and breathing. The other thing my parents had was a police scanner and a CB radio, so I could hear ambulances — say, "On 5th and Broadway, patient with cardiac arrest going to St. John's Mercy." So, three data points, which I could put into a program, and could actually simulate where an ambulance was going in the city.

I learned two years later that there was a whole industry around that called dispatch. So, I said, "I need to find the biggest dispatch firm in the world and I need to work there, so I can learn." And I found it in New York City and suddenly I was working at the largest dispatch center in the entire city.

In 2001, I realized I had all these verticals: I had taxi cabs, couriers, black cars, ambulances, police, fire. I knew where they were, what they were doing, where were the people. So I could see things. It was amazing. I would see flocks of taxis go to the Met and know that there was an event there and emergency vehicles descending upon one area and know something was up.

What if individuals could do the same thing? What if they could update where they were, what they were doing, where they were going — but also, you could see that live? Then you actually have the city. Then you potentially have the world, as well.

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  Topics: This Just In , Rhode Island School of Design, Twitter
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