Who Says Computer Scientists Can’t be Funny?


Twitter CEO and University of Michigan Alumni visited last week to speak about the history of twitter. Dick Costello graduated from The University of Michigan, in ’85 with a Computer Science degree, at the time, an LS&A degree called computer and communication sciences. Upon graduation, Costello traveled to Chicago to try to make a life as a Stand up Comedian.

An interesting comparison that Costello made was the idea that Twitters aim was to be like the Agora. Agora was the greeting place in ancient Greece. At the time of the Agora, this is how information was exchanged and news was spread. The key fact about the Agora, was that information was multi-directional, real time, and unfiltered. The invention of the printing press encouraged the advancement of innovation, it was a very positive invention because in the Agora, news could not travel very far, and it was not recorded. Along with the printing press, and later, the radio and television news stations, we lost the multi-directional, unfiltered, and some real-time aspects that the Agora allowed.

The view for Twitter was to bring back that idea of multi-directional, real-time, and unfiltered news. It would be an understatement to say that they succeeded in their goal. Twitter, is now referred to as “the pulse of the planet.” This is an interesting concept because when there is a major event in the world, it trends on Twitter. Similarly, say, a popular television show is on; there will be an uptick in tweets about the show when it is on, and there is background noise when it is not on. For example, Costello mentioned that there were about 8,000 tweets/second on debate nights and on the night of the election, there were about 12,150 tweets/second. Costello said it was like you can hear what the world is thinking.

Another interesting thing that Costello mentioned was a fact about the 2012 Olympic Games. The hashtag, #nbcfail trended throughout the olympics. This was because athletes as well as spectators at the games would tweet about victories and new world records before the races, games, and competitions actually aired in the US. As a result, people got very excited to watch sports they would not normally watch because they knew that a new world record was set. This resulted in NBC airing the highest rated Olympics in 30+ years!

The way that Twitter brings multi-directional news to followers is by allowing members to follow things they are interested in. When members follow someone or something, they can interact with that person or thing. They can tweet at someone/something, and that someone/something can and does tweet back. For example, the morning of Costellos speech, he said that chef, Mario Batali was tweeting responses to recipe questions.

Twitter is made up of many different people who have many different specialties. Over 700 engineers work at Twitter headquarters. As more and more signal pours into twitter, it is harder and harder for users to find what appeals to them. This is one of the many jobs of Twitter engineers and information specialists. It took Twitter 3 years, 2 months, and 1 day to reach a billion tweets. Now they get a billion tweets in two days. It would be an understatement to say that they have an extensive job on their hands.

Dick Costello’s first tweet as Twitter COO…


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4 Responses to Who Says Computer Scientists Can’t be Funny?

  1. Sabarish says:

    Nice post summarizing the talk. I unfortunately missed the talk as I was out of town, but I followed it on Twitter through the hashtag #TwitterAtUmich which was trending!

    Those who missed the talk can see the video and highlights here: http://www.si.umich.edu/newsandevents/press/video-and-highlights-twitter-ceos-visit-now-available

  2. hoffalex says:

    Interesting summary. I did not see the talk in person but I did have time to watch the video. It is certainly interesting that Costello compared Twitter to the agora. I found that to be an interesting example of how modern innovation can derive its inspiration from ancient culture. Oftentimes the greatest way of shaping the future is looking to the past. I also found the sheer number of tweets to be surprising. While I was aware that the number would likely be massive I did not expect that they were reaching a billion every two days. Ultimately I enjoyed watching this talk due to all the insights that it provided and the interesting bits of information that it revealed.

  3. caseylynn122 says:

    I also attended this talk. I’d never really gotten into twitter before going to his talk, but while I was there I set up the app on my phone and started following some things. I also thought it was really interesting how he described twitter as the “pulse of the planet” because things are happening in real time and trending topics pulsate with events (especially reoccurring events like TV shows).

  4. philippark says:

    As the previous comment said, I also thought that the pulse of the planet comment was very appropriate for Twitter. The ways in which Twitter is active during high points in T.V. shows or even during global disasters really shows how its activity can spike. It was also great how good of a public speaker Costolo was. This can probably be accredited to lots of practice, but also all of those theater classes while at Michigan.

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