Musician Says He ‘Basically Invented Twitter Before Twitter’ Existed

2021-11-12

The members of Radiohead sitting at the end of a long table.

Radiohead – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by John Spinks

One of alternative rock’s most popular players looks back on the time he “invented Twitter”

When people think of who created Twitter, usually the names Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams come to mind. The microblogging and social networking service launched in July 2006 and is one of the biggest social platforms in the world.

Now, Radiohead singer Thom Yorke is discussing the time that he and collaborator Stanley Donwood, reportedly, created Twitter by accident. It was years before the social media platform was founded.

As Yorke explains, he took a break from music for a while after Radiohead’s blockbuster 1997 release, “OK Computer,” due to a “creative block.” So, he and Donwood did some on painting and worked on each others’ art.

“Everybody involved felt like we’d been in some weird circus for quite a while, after ‘OK Computer,'” Yorke said in an extract his book with Donwood, “Kid A Mnesia” (via the Guardian). “Personally, I mentally completely crashed, as did Stan… Rather than immersing ourselves in this congratulatory atmosphere around us, we felt the total opposite. There was this fierce desire to be totally on the outside of everything that was going on, and a fierce anger, and suspicion. And that permeated everything. It was completely out of proportion, deeply unhealthy – but that’s where we were at.”

He continued: “I’d a had a complete creative block, and Rachel, my partner at the time, had said: ‘Stop trying to make music. Stop completely for a while.’ So I was wandering around just drawing anything I could see. Landscape. So landscape became an extremely important part of what was going on, because it loosened me up. … The act of sitting down in front of a landscape and just trying to represent that in whatever way we felt – choosing to listen to that and not any of the shit in your head – was a massively freeing experience.”

As the journey continued, Yorke recalls that Donwood became obsessed with Minotaur from Greek mythology. “On and on and on he went,” Yorke said. “And it really formed part of what was happening. The Minotaur cursed to repeat its mistakes in a maze. We had this whole plan worked out for this ziggurat, where people could log on, and build a room in the ziggurat themselves, and leave messages for other people.”

Here’s where Twitter comes in. As Donwood explains, “And they had to use a certain number of characters. We basically invented Twitter before Twitter, and failed to make any money from it.” Yorke stated, “It was called the Byzantine Ziggurat. But we didn’t want anyone’s data, therefore it was never going to work.”

“Kid A Mnesia” is being billed as “celebration of the Radiohead albums Kid A and Amnesiac, showcasing “more than 300 colour artworks” with “a dialogue between Thom Yorke and Stanley Donwood about the creative process.” It arrives in the U.S. on Feb. 22.

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