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How Google removed the muzzle on Twitter in Egypt
Question of the Day
Crossan says he wasn’t interested in making a political statement _ he just wanted to tackle a complex problem that also might further Google’s crusade to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”
So Crossan contacted a former Google colleague, Katie Stanton, who now oversees Twitter’s international services. She referred him to Benjy Weinberger, another former Google employee who is now a Twitter engineer. The two men spent the rest of Friday swapping ideas through instant messages and e-mail.
Initially, Crossan and Weinberger tinkered with a system that would interpret the tones of a telephone keypad and translate the sounds into tweets. After that idea proved too complicated, Crossan remembered something he had read earlier in the week: Google had just acquired a Palo Alto, Calif., startup called SayNow, which developed technology that lets teens exchange spoken messages with celebrities.
Crossan was helping his 2-year-old son ride a bike for the first time in a neighborhood park Saturday morning when he heard back from Singh. The two men figured they might be able to develop a voice-to-tweet service by building on the same technology SayNow used.
“Voices capture emotion, personality and the moment,” Singh says. “It gives you the intangible that you can’t get through text and data.”
The idea had another appeal: It would work whether the person was calling on a rotary telephone or a smart phone.
With the help of Google employees in Switzerland and Australia, the new tweeting service was taking shape late Saturday night when Crossan realized he had overlooked one detail: He hadn’t even told Google what he was doing.
That wasn’t a major oversight because Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have always encouraged engineers to devote 20 percent of their time to pet projects. In theory, the freedom is supposed to foster new ideas and drive employees to work harder so their pet projects might turn into actual products more quickly.
The formula worked well in Google’s early days, but the pace of innovation has slowed as the company grown to more than 24,000 employees. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is stepping aside from that job in April and handing the reins to Page as part of an effort to weed out bureaucracy and accelerate decision-making.
In Crossan’s case, he saw that one of his bosses, Bradley Horowitz, happened to be online late Saturday. Crossan e-mailed him about the new service. Crossan said Horowitz told him the idea was “awesome.” Crossan and Singh spent the rest of the night spent coding.
Although the speak-to-tweet service was available before dawn Sunday morning, it didn’t attract a lot of attention until Google announced it on its corporate blog Monday afternoon.
Now, Crossan and Singh are hoping the speak-to-tweet survive will survive long after Egypt quiets down. If nothing else, they say it will serve as a reminder that phones still can serve another purpose besides texting and surfing the Web.
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