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5 Minutes on The Verge: Loren Brichter

5 Minutes on The Verge: Loren Brichter

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loren brichter
loren brichter

Loren Brichter is the man behind Tweetie, arguably the best Twitter app ever built. The app was so good that Twitter bought Brichter's company, Atebits, in April 2010 and turned the app into Twitter for iPhone. In this way, he has directly or indirectly inspired many of our favorite apps, and even advises the Sparrow team. Brichter took a few minutes to talk to The Verge about what he's been up to since he left Twitter, how he solves complicated problems, and why the world has gone app crazy. You can find him online at @lorenb.

We haven't heard much from you since you left Twitter in late 2011 and tweeted "taking some time to figure out what's next." Where are you now, and what are you working on? Have you been bored?

Never bored! The past few years have been overwhelming, life got ahead of me. It's crazy to think that I started writing Tweetie a billion years ago as a weekend project to see how fast I could get a screenful of chat bubbles to scroll. Then it goes and gets popular and yada yada yada where did I get this facial hair? Now I'm working on a backlog of fun ideas that I hadn't had time to play with until now — going back to my roots (graphics programming has always been my passion).

"I stare at a problem and solutions crawl into my consciousness."

Why did you leave Twitter, if you don't mind us asking, and where do you think Twitter as an application (and/or as a service) is headed in the future?

I love Twitter. It's weird because when I joined they were growing like crazy. I was there for a year and a half, and when I left most employees were newer than me; I was an old-timer. Anyway lots of stuff is growing and changing and big-picture I think it's good to keep shaking things up. But I left for personal reasons — just needed to reset.

Who and what do you look to for design inspiration (art, print design,etc.)? What's the best book you've read lately?

There's so much creativity all around I don't know where to start. I'm fascinated by graphic and print design. I've been devouring as many books as I can find, currently working through The Semiology of Graphics, just finished Thinking With Type. Next up is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

I just finished The Essential Drucker. But I've had a good streak recently: Insisting On The Impossible, Ghost In The Wires, Uranium.

What phone do you use? Which apps are the most important on your home screen?

A boring old machined-steel-fits-in-my-hand-scrolls-at-60-fps-with-proper-physics-glorious-retina-none-of-this-crap-pentile-display black iPhone 4S. (Clearly I'm a fanboy for having no tolerance for awful displays or laggy UI on a device that is essentially *a screen*, but I digress. Bring it, commenters). If I had to switch the Lumia 900 would probably be my second choice.

My home screen is mostly stock, but I have a few third party apps: Twitter, Byline, Textie, Flipboard, Instapaper, Sparrow. My second screen is more interesting because that's where I hide the secret projects.

How would you define the "Brichter way," as some developers we've talked to choose to describe the UI trend present in many new apps?

No clue. It's fun seeing ideas like the Tweetie sidebar, pull-to-refresh, stacked panels spread. I stare at a problem and solutions crawl into my consciousness. Sometimes they're good ideas and thankfully people remember those more than the crap ones.

Why do you think those user interface paradigms have caught on so well with developers like Dom Leca (Sparrow), Phill Ryu (Clear), and Dave Morin (Path)?

Everything is an evolution, even pull-to-refresh is an evolution of an older refresh mechanism I came up with in Tweetie 1, which itself wasn't all that groundbreaking. I'm not sure what the tipping point is before an idea is considered a new "species" — I bet pull-to-refresh would count. It's fun thinking about the genetics of it all, watching ideas mutate and breed and survive. They're insidious, infecting the brains and silently influencing all these other developers. I think the ideas themselves deserve more credit than me. I'm just the proud dad of one generation.

Which mobile or desktop applications couldn't you live without?

LLVM and I'll build the rest.

"Make an app if it's better as an app. If you're not sure, then don't bother."

Actually, are apps even your "thing," or did you just kind of end up there?

Totally just ended up here. Not sure what my thing is. Maybe it's apps. But the world is going app crazy. Apps apps apps. Have a website? Not good enough! You need an app... I don't get it. I was too young to remember the .com bubble but I imagine it was like this. The whole thing is going to burn down the same way... in a good way. Like a forest fire that fertilizes the ground.

Anyway, I say make an app if it's better as an app. If you're not sure, then don't bother. The folks working on WebKit are more talented than the average app developer. Just embrace the constraints of web technology — don't make your site act like an app. Or chop down a tree with a herring. You'd think that was obvious.

What was the last time you were really stunned by a development in technology (e.g. launching Spotify for the first time, using the original iPhone, seeing sports in HD)?

DARPA/Google self driving car. That would change my life.

What is your first memory of the internet?

I was pretty young, but I remember getting CompuServe disks in the mail and putting them in the computer even though we didn't have a modem. My dad would stare at me, probably amused. It never connected.

Is there any reason that you keep a pretty low profile online (on Twitter, etc)?

Not intentionally. I think if everyone tweeted less the overall quality would improve, so maybe I'm trying to compensate for the rest of the universe. Then again my last three tweets were poop related.

What are you planning to talk about at the One More Thing conference coming up in May? What importance does Steve Jobs have to you?

1. Not positive yet. I'm not good at making words come out of my mouth in the right order. So it should be interesting. But I'm doing the mini-conf, which is smaller and more intimate, hopefully we can just talk as a group. Maybe I'll talk about the other 80% of app development... the stuff you have to do after you finish programming. I'll probably just share pieces of my story. I don't want to think too hard about it because I fear I may overgeneralize. I've only been around this merry-go-round once, so I only have one data point. If I share that others may be able to connect the dots.

2. I can't put my finger on it. There's something there but I can't describe it.

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