Wednesday, April 22, 2009
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
Myth No. 1 about the Internet phenomenon known as Twitter, says Andrew Stone: It's about telling people you just brushed your teeth.
Far from a vehicle for the tedium of everyday life, Twitter an Internet tool that allows users to quickly share snippets of thoughts with their friends or the world is, in Stone's view, one of the 21st century's great idea propagation machines.
It is also lucrative for the 53-year-old old hippie farmer in Albuquerque's North Valley who writes software and makes his own pickles.
Stone will not disclose his income from selling software for Twitter users beyond a sheepish "definitely in the six figures," followed by a smile. The smile is followed a few minutes later by a tour of the sprawling garden where Twitter software development and other related enterprises support Stone's passion for growing the ingredients for his homemade pickles.
Like many aficionados, Stone has a difficult time explaining Twitter, which is used in many ways by many people. But he can remember the precise moment he realized its power.
It was April 2008, when he read a news story about James Karl Buck, a University of California student arrested at a demonstration in Egypt. He used his cell phone to send a series of text messages to his Twitter friends, who quickly organized to arrange his release from jail.
"I said, 'This is so cool,' " Stone recalled, and set to work writing software to help Twitter users navigate the world of information it offers.
For people who live on the Internet, Twitter has become a killer app, tailored to a fast-moving, always-on style of communication. Links and ideas can be quickly shared. The most interesting get passed on from user to user in a custom known as "re-tweeting," meaning the most interesting to users can spread like wildfire.
A 1977 University of New Mexico architecture grad, Stone was one of the first generation to use Apple's Macintosh, the computer that brought point-and-click to the masses. More important, though, was a little tool called HyperCard that allowed end users to write their own little programs.
"Finally a regular person could program a Mac," Stone said.
The term "hacker" in pop culture has come to be associated with ill-behaved teenagers using the Internet to break into other people's computers. To computing purists, though, "hacker" has an entirely different meaning a term of respect for people clever at the art and science of getting computers to do useful work.
Stone became a HyperCard hacker in the best sense of the word, and a career in software development was born. Software to edit pictures, make movies and create Web pages has followed over the years.
The work generated a stream of revenue sufficient to expand his little patch of the North Valley, where Stone has built a sprawling workshop, a guesthouse and a two-story tower that houses a warren of computers with a water tank on the roof to irrigate the family's sprawling garden.
Today, the action happens in Stone's little iPhone, the mobile phone developed by Apple that is really a powerful computer in the pocket. The iPhone always there, always on is a platform tailor-made for Twitter, and for "Twittelator," the software Stone developed for Twitter users.
For $4.99 free for a stripped-down version users can download Twittelator to help them manage their Twitter lives. Users send messages with it and use it to organize and keep track of the steady stream of messages coming from all their Twitter friends. Twittelator makes it easy to share pictures or links to interesting Web sites.
Apple keeps 30 percent, and Stone gets the rest. More than half-a-million people have downloaded Twittelator in its various versions, along with several other iPhone programs Stone has written.
For an independent programmer, with a garden outside with fresh asparagus demanding his attention, it is close to the perfect life.
"I don't worry about sales. I don't worry about collecting money. I don't worry about anything. I just code," Stone said. "It's the indie garage guy's dream."