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An Interview with Biz Stone of Twitter

  • April 21, 2009
  • By Bradley L. Jones
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Do you recommend to other people to focus on the core site and concept and not worry about the business model up front?

If you're talking about new technologies, new ideas, especially on the Web, then I think it makes sense to really work on the concept, the product itself, and the reliability. If you're talking about going out and starting a bookstore and buying a building and things like that, there are some proven models and you know exactly what you want to do, within reason if you're experimenting and trying to think.

If you've invented a communication technology that you're not even sure people are going to want, use, or need, then you first need to focus on the product. Then when it gets popular, you need to focus on reliability so that you don't base a whole revenue model on something that isn't going to work. If someone is going down an innovative technology path, I recommend that they make sure they have a compelling product before they invest resources into the revenue model.

Stepping back to the Web topics, what are your thoughts on Web 3.0, the Semantic Web?

If your head is down and you're really working on Web stuff and you hear people talking about Web 2.0, then Web 3.0, you do see a lot of sort of eye rolling, because at a certain point, if someone is talking about Web 3.0, it means they're talking too much and they're not working on something. They've talked themselves all the way into a new term. So, I'm not entirely familiar with what people are associating with Web 3.0; I'm still catching up with what's supposed to be Web 2.0 and what gets added into that and what doesn't.

Some of the people talking the loudest are associated with publishing.

At least they're attempting to explain it to a bunch of people who aren't as familiar with it. It certainly helps to frame it. People are used to Microsoft Word version one as opposed to Microsoft Word version three.…

The idea of clumping together all the iterations that are taking place over four years—design trends, new innovations—you clump them all together and say, "This is the next version." Even if it happened gradually, it helps to explain to people who weren't paying attention every single new turn in the road to say, "Here's where I'm marking Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, so that you can understand that there have been major accomplishments. It's not that I'm against the concept of doing it; I'm just not maybe zoomed out enough to think about what is being called Web 3.0.

Software as a Service (SaaS) and Software plus Services (S+S) are being talked about a lot. Do you think these are fact or fiction? Do you see things moving off the desktop?

I think everything is moving towards this idea that you can add a lot of value to the Web. You mentioned before, Adobe AIR; now we're seeing a lot of fun, small, desktop applications that are interacting with the Web, so I'm not going to say that desktop applications are going to completely go away.

There's a desktop application that interacts with Twitter, and people love it. It's just a growing awareness of, "We can connect, we can make this software a lot more social, and we can bring a lot more value to it if we connect it to the Web and thereby connect it to other people."

Do you see connectivity being pervasive—i.e., always available?

That's the hope; that's kind of why Twitter is on mobile. We started off from the very beginning on mobile. The idea of connectivity with the Web is not something that should have to be tied to the PC. We've shown with Twitter that just through simple SMS you can connect similarly as you would on the Web.

That means that we really are bringing the social connectivity web style to every mobile, SMS-capable phone in the world, which is very, very simple technology. The hope is that anywhere there is a simple glimmer of connectible technology; we'll tie it to simple messaging.

What do you see as the next big change or revolution on the Web?

I guess what I just mentioned with the mobile combined with APIs and openness is also increasingly important to companies. Right now, Twitter is mobile over SMS. You never have to go to the web site. We also have an API, which means you can write an application that works over SMS (Twitter).

It's possible that we may see in the future something like farmers in India interacting with an application over SMS that helps them get a better price for grain, or something like this. They wouldn't be able to do this otherwise because they wouldn't have access to a PC or a Web connection.

We've seen it already—someone wrote us and told us about a simple SMS application where you send a text like, "In 15 minutes call Mom;" and in 15 minutes you get an SMS back that says, "Call Mom." That's an application written on our API that works over SMS. So now it's possible to do computing over SMS. I think that concept is sound and I'd love to see that flourish around the world and just see what people can do with it.

This article is taken directly from Web 2.0 Heroes: Interviews with 20 Web 2.0 Influencers by Bradley L. Jones, published by Wiley. This book contains interviews with other industry leaders including those from Microsoft, Sun, IBM, Adobe, eBay, Technorati, LinkedIn, Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Skype, Ning, Bloglines, and more.

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

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