When the inevitable Twitter movie inevitably beams into theaters, no one will play Dom Sagolla. It's not because he doesn't want to be part of the story: for the past several years, he's toured the world as a self-proclaimed inventor of Twitter. He's not. So why hasn't anyone ever called him out?
Sagolla was an inventor of Twitter much in the same manner that Edison's milkman helped invent the lightbulb. He was around for much of Twitter's genesis—friends with some of the people who dreamt and coded the thing, a small part of conversations that blueprinted and polished what it is to tweet. As an employee at Odeo—the hamstrung podcasting company at which Twitter was a side-project—Dom Sagolla watched tech history take place. But he's successfully parlayed his role as witness into an international fraud: TV talking head gigs, journalistic authority, speaking engagements, and literary authorship ("140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form") with more relevance than ever.
Bloomberg, which also labels him a "co-creator," has asked him to recount "the early days in the evolution of Twitter."
Last year, he gave a commencement address at Becker College—again credited as a "co-creator" of Twitter. And it's not a matter of riding a wave of misattribution: when the official magazine of Harvard's graduate studies program asked how Sagolla would like an interview to be described, he asked simply, "You can mention it like this: "An interview with Twitter cocreator @Dom Sagolla, Ed.M.'00." They did.
If any of these outlets had bothered to check Sagolla's story, they probably wouldn't book him again. Some of the most trusted sources of financial and international news have been fooled, over and over again. I spoke with a former coworker of Dom's from his days at Odeo, right when Twitter came to life. He is, to put it Twitter-succinctly, a liar:
Dom, like the other 10 or so people who didn't get to work on the Twitter project, was specifically asked not to play a role, although I remember him wanting to. We had chemistry problems left and right, and those three were a small group that were capable of working together. My job was specifically to keep everyone else away from them. That request came from both Jack [Dorsey] and Ev [Williams].
I played a role in the who stays/goes decision (including taking myself out because I didn't see how a three-person project needed a middle manager). With certainty, the people who didn't stay were people that weren't contributing to Twitter and who we couldn't see any path toward contribution. So no, I didn't witness any connection between Dom's career as a Twitter writer/speaker and his actual role in the founding of Twitter. It drives me nuts to see people clamoring for Twitter credit.
No one witnessed it, because it almost certainly didn't happen. In Nick Bilton's exhaustive account of Twitter's creation, based on hundreds of hours of interviews, Dom is mentioned only a few times, in passing, only as an Odeo coworker of the people who actually hatched Twitter. A tech worker familiar with Odeo's staff, and who regularly saw the Twitter crew, didn't even remember a Dom Sagolla having ever worked there. It's a running joke, and persistant embarrassment, for both current and former Twitter employees, though the company won't officially comment on the matter.
When I spoke with an agitated Sagolla via telephone, hoping to hear some justification of his lofty self-title, he didn't give me much to work with. But he defended, absolutely, his "co-creator" status—careful to distinguish it from characters like Jack or Ev, who he calls "co-founders," because "founders get stock." Otherwise, than that, they're peers on the stage of nerd history.
"I was the head of quality, in charge of the testing at Odeo," he explains, meaning he worked to find and squish bugs in podcasting software. When the gang started testing out Twitter with each other, Sagolla started sifting through the underlying code to fix errors that popped up—and there were plenty. "We all sat next to each other, I gave input every day, plus I'm using the hell out of it. My personal phone, which happened to be a RAZR, was the Twitter test device."
But an enthusiastic beta tester does not a co-creator make—and Sagolla's bug-hunting was an unwelcome role. He said "they locked me out of the codebase one day," completely barring him from even minor contributions to Twitter. "I was livid. It was pretty sudden." He was sent back to working on podcasting programs at Odeo, and fired within about a month. So ends Dom Sagolla's Twitter story. I asked him whether he thinks his self-anointment as "co-creator" or "inventor" is fair, and what he thinks of skeptics. His only response was an alleged email exchange with Ev Williams, wherein Sagolla tells Williams he'd like to say he "helped create the service, not the company," and Williams said "that sounds good." Dom wouldn't show me this email. He also points to the foreward of his book, written by Jack Dorsey—if Dom were full of shit, Dorsey wouldn't have signed off on the book, right? Dorsey concludes his contribution thusly: "I leave you now in the hands of a documentarian, storyteller, and practitioner of a new protocol of communication." Sure. But those aren't the words Dom uses to promote himself.
Today, the company he didn't help build, issues an explosive, by most accounts successful public stock offering. Sagolla joined both Bloomberg Television and CNBC from the floor of the stock exchange, as qualified to opine as you or me. Before we ended our conversation, Sagolla told me "I've worked very hard to avoid negativity in this topic. I don't have stock, so I trade in reputation. My job requires me to not take credit, but take responsibility." But if his job is full-time pretender, it seems like he's taking a lot of both.