Twitter's latest departure reveals a leaky ship

Nathan Pensky · September 18, 2011 · Short URL:

Chief Scientist Chowdhury, and two board members Wilson and Sabet leave in the same week

It was a bit of a corporate shake-up week for Twitter.

On Friday, Twitter's Chief Scientist Abdur Chowdhury left the company, confirming as much via his own Twitter account. Chowdhury Tweeted on Friday, "So Long and THanks for All the Fish. Twitter was an amazing experience & even greater set of people." The initial sentence of this statement is a reference to the popular science-fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, spoken by hyper-intelligent dolphins on their flight from the end of the world.

Chowdhury's departure comes on the same day Twitter announced that Bijan Sabet, a partner at Spark Capital, and Fred Wilson, of Union Square Ventures, would be leaving Twitter’s board of directors. Both Sabet and Wilson were early investors in Twitter.  

While Chowdhury has given no indication as to the reason for his departure, one can speculate that perhaps it has to do with the corporate twists and turns reshaping the company, as well as the new massive round of funding. 

In August, Twitter announced that it raised a significant round of financing. The announcement was referring to the many reports of an $800 million in new financing, of which half would be used to cash out early investors. About half the funds were invested by Yuri Milner and Russia's Direct Sky Technologies, putting Twitter's estimated worth at $8 billion.

The financing and departures also comes as Twitter hints at launching a new advertising platform in conjunction with the recently-acquired AdGrok. Twitter's partnership with AdGrok may indicate a move into self-formulated performance data, as opposed to tapping the research of third parties.

Twitter could not be reached for immediate comment. 

The departures of Chowdhury and the two board members are latest in a series of high-profile departures by Twitter's elite crew. Co-founder Biz Stone recently rsigned, citing the "incredible product[ivity]" of the company's leadership. Said Stone in an accompanying blog post, "I've decided that the most effective use of my time is to get out of the way until I'm called upon to be of some specific use."

Others among those in the Twitter mass exodus include four fired product managers -- Jean-Paul Cozzati, Anamitra Banerj, Kevin Chang, and Josh Elman. Twitter CTO (and Summize co-founder) Greg Pass left in May.

Prior to founding Summize Chowdhury was chief architect of search product at AOL and is also a co-founder of the Alta Vista School, an independent, science-focused elementary school in San Francisco. With Chowdhury's departure, not one of the original members of Summize now work for Twitter.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.