Twitter creator talks inspiration, development of his technologies

His name may not be trending right now, but his creation sure is. Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, was on campus Tuesday to speak with engineering students, and The Daily Illini took the chance to sit down with the man behind the social media.

*Daily Illini: Where did the idea for Twitter come from?*

*Jack Dorsey:* I grew up in St. Louis; my parents loved the city. I developed this fascination with cities (and) obsession with maps, and they bought a Macintosh in 1984, when I was 8 years old … and I made it a goal to teach myself how to program so I could draw maps on the computer, and then they also had a police scanner and a CB (Citizen’s Band) radio (short-distance radio communication system), so I could listen to police cars and ambulances reporting where they were and what they were doing. I could actually see the city living and breathing. And Twitter came out of an idea of: I have all these verticals, I have cars and taxis and couriers and ambulances and police cars and fire trucks, but I’m missing one key element of the city, which were the people. So if the people could say where they are, what they’re doing, where they’re going, what would that look like? Could you actually map it? Could you see the city? I had that idea in 2001, but it just wasn’t the right time; we didn’t have the right technology. So in 2006, when SMS got really big in this country is when Twitter took off and was formed.

*DI:* Over the course of the existence of Twitter, what have been the key developments? What changes have been made to Twitter?

*JD:* The technology hasn’t shifted that much at all. We’ve been building it and making it more resilient to failure, to keep it up more. The interface has changed a little bit, but where a lot of the work is, is making it more relevant instantly so you can go to the service and you can see everything that’s happening in the world right now. So if you hear that something is unfolding in Egypt, it’s actually right there and it’s the first place that it breaks. And that’s happening more and more and more, and that’s a function of investing more in the technology, making it faster, making it more available, making it everywhere, making sure that every country, every market has an easy input to it. We have short code in Iraq so that anyone with a $5 cellphone can participate in the same conversation that you can participate in, in the United States, and 60 percent of the population in Iraq has a cellphone, so that’s been our focus.

*DI:* Did you expect Twitter to take off as much as it did or serve the same purpose that it does today?

*JD:* We knew it was a big idea. We knew that it could work in many, many different areas, but we didn’t expect the velocity. It’s just been super, super fast. We also didn’t expect how many different ways people would use it. I imagine the same will be true for Square. Twitter is almost 7 years old, and Square is 3 years old.

*DI:* What is Square?

*JD:* Square, quite simply, enables anyone to accept credit cards from their mobile phone. It’s a tiny little device that plugs into the headphone jack on your phone and enables anyone to accept credit cards, and the payments go into their bank account the next day. We’ve also built an application called Pay with Square, which allows you to actually pay with your name.

*DI:* How did you develop Square?

*JD:* We’ve been developing it for three years now. Myself and my co-founder Jim McKelvey, we’re both from St. Louis, Mo. We started working on it in early 2009 and now are 400 people in San Francisco.

*DI:* Are there businesses in Champaign-Urbana using Square?

*JD:* We have hundreds in Champaign-Urbana. These range from individuals, like people who are personal trainers or hairdressers who want to accept credit cards, golf instructors, tutors, all the way to small businesses. We have food trucks coming by tonight that are using Square, and then we have some retail locations as well.

*DI:* What advice do you have for students at the University?

*JD:* If you have a strong idea, and you have a passion for it and you want to see it exist in the world, then make sure you push really hard to do it …. It’s really just a question of what canvas do you want to plan and how quickly do you want to go. And that’s what I would encourage people to think about is …. (Students) can make a sizable impact by building really compelling tools, within a company or by starting a company, but they just have to get it out of their heads.

_Maddie can be reached at [email protected]_