Shockingly little insight into Twitter from its founders...

Shockingly little insight into Twitter from its founders...

Summary: There was little insight into Twitter from Twitter's founders at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco. You'd think they would know more...


If you missed Twitter co-founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone interviewed by Brad Stone from BusinessWeek, Monday evening -- you didn't miss much.

The two executives spoke at a meeting of Inforum, which is part of the Commonwealth Club, focused on fostering discussion among people in their 20s and 30s.

The location was the stunning Julia Morgan Ballroom at The Merchants Exchange in downtown San Francisco, (a building owned by Clint Reilly, one of California's top political power brokers). And there was a huge fireplace, as advertised for the "Fireside chat" but little fire in the conversation.

Brad Stone was introduced as "known for asking the tough questions" but if the answers aren't forthcoming it takes probing -- which Mr. Stone was reluctant to do, preferring to move on to the next question on his list.

Overall, I did learn something: about a "social mission" at Twitter which was a surprise; and that Ev Williams isn't all that engaged with Twitter or knows much about his users. Biz Stone came across as much more tuned into Twitter.

Here are some notes from the evening:

- Is Twitter mainstream? Ev Williams came back with "what does mainstream mean?" Twitter has gone beyond pundits.

- How's the new site going? Ev Williams said it was a great success, not even a single protest group. We expected pitchforks. Even Biz liked it.

(I have heard from many people complaining about the new site and loss of some features. It was a little shocking that the Twitter co-founders were so self-congratulatory on not being able to find critics. Scratch a little deeper...)

- Ev Williams said he goes to Twitter for news and Tweets maybe just once or twice a day. (Wow! That's very low engagement.)

- Ev Williams dropped Conan O'Brien's name, said he was talking to him and his writers and they like the 140 character constraint because it produces better jokes.

- Malcolm Gladwell's recent post "Why the revolution will not be Tweeted" was politely received at first but then both founders laid into him. Mr. Williams said, "it was laughable" and that he confused Twitter with Wikipedia when he (Gladwell) complained about a lack of editorial control.

Biz Stone said that no one had claimed that the revolution would be Tweeted in the first place. And that the Iranian political protests weren't technically a revolution.

- They were asked about ads and they said all ads would be properly marked. They also mentioned a "resonance" algorithm so that if a major brand is Tweeting ads, and it doesn't resonate with Twitter users, they will pull the ads and not charge for the ads.

(Will they use re-tweets to measure "resonance?" What else do they have to measure and why do they need an algorithm for that? How many people will gladly re-tweet an ad? Only if bribed.)

- They will analyze users and who they follow so for example, someone following lots of video game related people will be offered to Xbox if it wants to gain more readers for its Tweets, for a price.

- Asked about censorship they said they don't want to moderate Tweets and that they have three simple rules, they will ban Tweets that have specific violent threats; links to child pornography; and links to copyrighted content specified by takedown orders.

Biz Stone said it would take considerable creativity to be "super porny" in 140 characters, therefore it's not a problem. They support free speech.

(If they had to moderate tens of millions of Tweets daily they would soon be out of business. It has nothing to do with standing up for free speech.)

- Twitter has a division that seeks to work with newspapers and other media organizations to see how "both can succeed." (Good luck getting money out of hard hit media groups.)

- Asked about not having a business model Ev WIlliams said he didn't like all the talk that they didn't have a business model because they hadn't been working on a business model in the first place(!) They wanted to take their time to eventually get to a point where they had a business model and try out different things that weren't obvious, like using Google AdSense.

- They said Twitter would get to a billion users, just like Facebook but it would be a different billion users.

- The failure of Odeo was brought up, a search engine for podcasts that both were involved in. They said they weren't emotionally connected with Odeo, and that they didn't produce or listen to podcasts, which didn't help. But it was easy to raise money for the venture.

(Ev Williams is not that engaged with Twitter, I wonder if that will be a problem down the line.)

- Not much interest in expanding into China, especially since Twitter is blocked. There are several thousand users in China using VPNs.

- They want Twitter to be relevant to users and connect with their information, they don't have to Tweet much if at all (a la Ev Williams).

- They have a big design and engineering team working on new products.
(Look out Twitter ecosystem!)

- Both, especially Biz Stone, spoke about a social mission for Twitter and that connecting people around the world would make people empathize more with one another and people would realize they are citizens of the world.
(The "Social Mission" aspect of Twitter sounded contrived especially since we are just hearing about it now... Why not earlier? Sounds like it was bolted-on.)

- Biz Stone spoke about some educational philanthropic projects. "If you can't read - you can't Tweet."

Q&A was lackluster.

I found just 1 Tweet about the content of the Inforum presentation:

: "Twitter will get to 1billion users.... in the future - @ "

UPDATED: There were more Tweets under the hashtag #InforumSF that I missed, my apologies, it was late at night... Thanks to Sean Garrett (@SG) for pointing that out.

Foremski's Take: Twitter is a "force of nature." It became successful despite its founders knowing much about what was happening. To hear the founders try to explain Twitter as a type of fait accomplis from the start was entertaining and ludicrous.

I would have preferred a more honest approach, something along the lines of:

"We tried Twitter as a side project, but we had no idea what it would do, or turn into... We thought about closing it down several times because people were Tweeting pathetic stuff and it was starting to cost a fortune in SMS charges ... but then it took off.

Now, we are scrambling just to keep up with our users, and we are trying to make money copying the best ideas in our ecosystem of app developers. We have a kick ass team to do that.

Plus, we don't really know what the heck is going on inside Twitter, we're just trying to ride it and not get thrown off. It's not like we spend that much time on Twitter anyway ... we're busy having a real life ; )"

Sadly, we didn't get that. It would have been far closer to the truth if we had, and far more authentic.

Topics: CXO, Social Enterprise

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  • RE: Shockingly little insight into Twitter from its founders...

    I've given up on Twitter - deactivated my account, and finding more and more ways to interact with people that don't require me to wade through screen after screen of banality, stupidity, and flame-baiting. I know that Twitter can be used productively - if you have the time or interest to filter, prune, and manage your followers. Life is too short for me, though. That kind of time gets taken up with more meaningful things, and all of them are IRL.
  • sorry

    i conceived (and named) twitter.
    the other dudes merely took my idea and implemented it
    the key question is why did i conceive twitter and then crowdsource it?
    it is because i wanted a better handle on the origin of creative thought - the zeitgeist say, and i wanted a real time way of correlating the moment of conception of a new thought... to see if they were truly new, what nexi existed and where and when and why.


    because i wanted to get a handle on where prescient thought comes from, how creativity is borne, and in particular, if anyone else was experiencing my brand of prescience. Because the scientist in me wants to know why I continually predict events, and preempt new ideas - did I make the idea or did I merely receive the idea. And seemingly in violation of the laws of causality and the arrow of time. I wanted to know if there were both advanced and retarded solutions to the wave equation... Or other causes. Other explanations of why it was i get intrusive thoughts, ideas, conceptions that truly predict the future (make the future?) Accurate predictions of future events that are mostly horrible but not always (iPad), and i wanted to know why, and how, and mostly if others had the same, and if they did, if we could get a better handle on them so we could perhaps prevent them.

    the folks that implemented twitter probably didn't know that i conceived of twitter as a scientific research tool for cutting edge research on...

    the cutting edge

    so sorry

    this idea needs to be implemented soon, because my visions inevitably come true, and there are some that are so nasty that i dare not utter a single word about them

    i would quite happily be branded a loon if it meant that future events as (i imagine them to be) revealed to me turn out to be delusion, rather than visions of horror too unspeakable to contemplate
  • RE: Shockingly little insight into Twitter from its founders...

    The social mission stuff wasn't bolted on, in fact, it was welded in from the start. If you track what the devs have been saying over time, for example, when they went to Russia and met with human rights groups and entrepreneurs last spring (and found them to be very different and even antagonistic communities in Russia), they were coming from that "social mission" place. They've always had that same California dreamin' sort of notion that FB and other platforms like Second Life have, that they are making a Better World, that what they do isn't merely crass business or neutral technology, but it is "for betterment" of mankind. I find this a real drawback to their tools. To the extent they can scrub their religion out of the tools, the better for us all. I don't want them defining what a better world is. That should come freely and naturally from those with a vested interest and a stake in a given situation. Beware of totalitarian global theories, I say. Connectivity for connectivity's sake doesn't make people "better" and social media is obviously not some unalloyed good -- it can make cynical students force a gay teen to commit suicide, for example. Media functions best when it is free, and when editors/owners/ad buyers don't ascribe a social mission to it.
    Prokofy Neva
  • RE:Shockingly little insight into Twitter from its founders...

    Thank you so much. <a href="">replica hermes</a>