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An Interview with Biz Stone of Twitter

  • April 21, 2009
  • By Bradley L. Jones
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Do you end up having people worrying about publishing something to the public, or having them come to you after they have done so to ask how they can secure their feed?

We don't get a lot of people coming back to us. People may, on their own. I still maintain that about 90 percent of the Twitter population keeps their feeds open—that's not changing. But people do sort of find their own way to determine what they do/don't want to share.

Of course, the same kind of thing happened with Xanga, Blogger, and others. You're happily Twittering along and you may forget yourself because all of this stuff has been updated by Google for the past year, and everything is available.

It would occasionally freak people out when they would say, "My teacher read my Xanga page! I can't believe it—he's such a jerk!" It's just a page on the Internet; you can't really get too mad that he went and read it! It's funny how they feel that it's more of a "between them and their friends" and that others shouldn't be snooping around. But, in most cases, people find value in the openness.

How would you and Twitter define Web 2.0?

That is a good question. I think people have very specific definitions of elements that go into it.

For me it's this big, growing realization that the Web is increasingly a social environment and that people are using it to communicate with one another, like they've always done—but now in such an open way. All of these tools that you see emerging, that you would associate with Web 2.0, like tagging, where you can easily categorize a piece of media, you do all of this in an effort to express yourself and to share your thoughts with other people—that is, communication and self-expression. I guess I would define what is being called Web 2.0 as the public acceptance of the fact that the Web is a highly social utility.

Technology helps make this happen. Are technologies such as AJAX, Adobe AIR, or Microsoft Silverlight Web 2.0?

A lot of what people talk about when they talk about Web 2.0 is openness; I think the tools mentioned are tools that are freely shared, or the codes and ideas behind them are freely shared among developers, as well as being publicly available for free on the Web. The idea is that the more open these technologies and services are, the better.

I don't think there's a fine line where you could show me a flash-card deck of different things and ask me, "Is it Web 2.0, or not?" It's more like a gradient where I'd say, "That's pretty much Web 1.0…that one's more 2.0, etc." It's just easy to say something's Web 2.0 because people can understand what you're talking about.

Is there a feature or something that stands out more so than others in regard to Web 2.0?

I think it would be the open factor; the idea that the more you can open up your platform, your idea, or your concept to invite other people to build on top of it, and work within it, the better. It all goes hand in hand, realizing the Web is a very highly social utility. If we create more open systems, it will be even more social. I would guess that this openness in general is really the broadest definition.

Is there anything you would say that people are misunderstanding about Web 2.0?

For most people there is no Web 2.0; there is just the Web. So, I guess you're talking about a certain set of builders and people who work on the Web, who've decided to lump together a bunch of different aspects, trends, and technologies and say that they are Web 2.0 if they have these elements in them. I can't really think of something where there's a misconception right now.

It sounds like you are indicating that the term is a bitmisunderstood.

Yes. It's easy to call something Web 2.0, but when you have to dig in and define the specifics of it, things get kind of murky.

Is there anything that you have seen or that you have done at Twitter that you would say is really cool?

The fact that we built an API very early on with Twitter is one of those things that people might associate with Web 2.0 and with openness. You have to provide an Application Programming Interface so that other developers can build on your platform, and we did that because we thought "This will be great; this is a simple service and it's easy to make an API; at the very least we'll garner some good will from other developers and other like-minded people."

At the same time, we had no idea that the API would end up being a very central part of our strategy and our growth. We see 20 times the traffic through our API than we do the Web. So, suddenly, this thing that we thought would be just a good idea to have becomes a "must-have." That's sort of a key driver of Twitter.

Out of curiosity, what is the business model?

Our focus right now is on reliability and user experience. Before we go to the revenue model we have to have a compelling product and service. If we focus all of our time designing the revenue model in the beginning, then we wouldn't be as concerned about the product. It would kind of be like putting the cart before the horse.

Twitter's business model is going to be pretty diversified, because of the fact that we as a company are on pretty diverse platforms. We're on SMS, we're on the Web, we're on instant message, and the mobile web. We want to continue to be as agnostic as possible with regard to how people interact with Twitter. That means adding email support—emailing in and out of Twitter. It means continued cooperation with other big social networks, like Facebook and others where Twitter can come in and out. The business model is going to be something that is as simple as the concept of Twitter.

Tags: Twitter, social networking, Web 2.0, IM, Web 3.0

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