Author: Charles McNair


Photo of Bakari Brock
Brock rejects the idea that Twitter is a social network. “Twitter is a real-time information network,” he says. “You use it to connect to the information you find most interesting and most valuable.”

It’s safe to say that Bakari Brock thinks differently from other lawyers. He has chosen a career path with sharp and unexpected turns, the kinds of choices you’d never see from by-the-book legal beagles obsessed with billable hours, three-piece suits, and making partner by age 35.

Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, where Brock works as legal counsel, feels like a fine fit. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that every single one of the youthful geniuses bounding through the Folsom Street offices, most dressed in hoodies and backpacks and running shoes, had a gig after work in a band somewhere. Or a date with a snowboard and some fresh powder. (“Snowboarding is the most fun I can think of,” says Brock.)

Twitter is not your father’s corporation. It’s not even your big brother’s corporation. Employees at the five-year-old company hold their meetings standing — wonderfully efficient, it turns out, since people itch to move along after 10 vertical minutes. The Twitter conference room feels more like a high-school cafeteria than a place of business, and indeed at lunch employees dine at modest portable tables there — on mushroom crepes or chicken tetrazzini, or whatever the dedicated company chef whips up that day. There’s no vacation policy. People come and go, work the hours they choose. They simply have to get the job done.

And what, exactly, is the job? Well . . . how to describe it? Has there ever been anything quite like Twitter?

Back in 2006, three brainy young nerds with IT and digital-age startup backgrounds — Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone — were putzing around on a sliding board at a kiddy playground. Between bites of Mexican takeout, they brainstormed ideas that might help support their struggling electronics venture.

Engineer Dorsey had an idea. What if you could adapt the kind of real-time dispatch capability that taxis and ambulances use and turn it into a text product? Users could get in-the-moment status updates, keep interested parties informed, and send up-to-date news via cell phones or other technology tools. Hey, sounds like a good idea! In two weeks, initial Twitter users were sending short bursts of text, up to 140 characters, to their peers.

The revolution was on.

Through “tweets” that appeared as text on user screens, dozens, hundreds, then millions of customers began to use Twitter to avidly follow their friends, or celebrities like Lady Gaga and Chad Ochocinco, or stock tips from financial advisers, or breaking news from a mine cave-in, or a nearly infinite number of hashtagged interests.

Twitter exploded, growing in less than five years from playground notion between jalapeno bites to a valuation, following late 2010 investments, of $3.7 billion. Between January 2010 and January 2011 – the first year Brock was at HQ – Twitter users worldwide mushroomed from a passionate core group to nearly 200 million true social networkers. Twitter adds hundreds of thousands of new users per day, and 100 million tweets fly the networks every 24 hours.

The Twitter revolution is literal, in some celebrated cases. The ability of Twitter users and Facebook friends and other social media literati to bypass censored or controlled media sources effectively enabled revolutions last winter in Tunisia and Egypt. Real-time, real-world information via Twitter sparked mass uprisings that toppled tyrants and changed the course of history.

And look who stands in the middle of all this. Bakari Brock, a kid from Sunnyvale, Calif., whose parents met in Athens, who calls Georgia home after living in Atlanta from age 12 through college. Today, he’s a youthful 30, doing his legal work in a ski vest and casual pants, sharing an open cubicle space with several colleagues, not a law book in sight (“Everything we need is online,” Brock explains). He proudly keeps a miniature UGA football helmet on his desk.

Brock practices law for this new kind of . . . well, what exactly is Twitter? Is it a news medium? A social network? Something new under the sun?

“Twitter is not a social network, it’s a real-time information network,” says Brock. “You use it to connect to the information you find most interesting and most valuable. It’s as simple as that.”

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Follow him on Twitter: @Bakari