Is there anybody out there? (Twitter intvw)

Bambi Francisco Roizen · August 17, 2008 · Short URL:

CEO Jack Dorsey on how Twitter came to be (Part III, in interview series)

It all makes sense when you learn that Twitter's CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey spent 15 years writing dispatch software for couriers, taxis and 911.

 In this interview (No. 3 of a series with Jack), we focus on how Twitter is changing the way we interact and communicate. I'm not sure Twitter feeds produce a lovely mosaic, as Jack thinks. My Twitter feed looks more like a cacophony of voices. But nonetheless, it's a picture of what's going on with people I'm following. It's my metropolisToday, I found out that Jack was buying an electric toothbrush, my friend Graham Glass was waiting for furniture to be delivered, while venture capitalist Josh Koppelman was wondering what NBC would do now that Olympic Gold medalist, Michael Phelps, was done swimming. 

As Jack put its: " Twitter has become a personal news wire."

(Note: Look below for my other interviews with Jack)

Are you there? I'm here.

Your personal news wire in 140 characters or fewer. Hmm. Is it genuine communication or a personal tabloid? If nobody is snapping pictures of those who Twitter upon walking out of a Hollywood coffee shop does it still count if they post a tweet?

Everyone wants to be acknowledged. Everyone wants to feel like they're not alone. I'm sure there are moments when posting updates, the words from Pink Floyd come to mind. "Hello. Hello. Hello. Is there anybody out there."

And, this is the beauty of Twitter. The rich tapestry of interwoven storylines comes into view when the millions of seemingly disparate updates are brought together. 

These moments are called "massively shared experiences," according to Jack. For instance, when people feel a rumble, a bump or a shake in San Francisco, they update those occurrences. When it persists, said Jack, "gossip becomes fact." This may sound sobering, but on 9/11, I received an instant message from my father, saying, "My heart just sank." He was looking outside his living room window as the planes hit the tower. When I watch the Twitter streams, I wonder what it would have been like if Twitter were around then.

Is Twitter a social network? 

 Are you a social network? I asked. Jack says "no," though his definition of Twitter and a social network makes it sound like in fact, Twitter is. According to Jack, a social network helps you filter down to your network, or people you're interested in. Twitter lets you follow people in your social network. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that Jack thinks Twitter is all you need from a social network, while not exactly being one.

I'll leave the semantics aside. According to Jack, Twitter is a "communication utility," focused on the concepts of "status" and "update."  The updates, and the ability to search them through Surmise, expose "trends."

The one thing about not being a social network is the ability to circumvent liability. Twitter considers itself as just the conduit, a service and platform carrying the message, much like AT&T. In other words, while social networks, like Facebook, have to set up community laws, so to speak, Twitter says: Don't shoot the messenger.

More needles per haystack

The most interesting part of the conversation was when Jack discussed how he saw Twitter changing the search paradigm and how he saw people using Twitter's search engine next year.

Because the updates are constrained to the 140-character, each word has a lot of weight and meaning, he said. It's like a "keyword." Additionally, Jack thinks that next year people will be looking for answers to questions. A lot of people who have 10k followers would only have to ask their audience a question, such as, "Should I buy the Nokia phone?" They'd instantly get tons of answers. "When you have that ability, it feels like a super power," said Jack.

"I'm a big believer in creativity through constraint," he goes on to say. "When you limit the canvas size you get more creative. A lot of creativity comes through hard times and constrained times. It makes you strive to be your best."

Jack's building a needle factory.

(Note: This interview is part of a series looking at online behavior and how technology is changing the way we socialize and communicate. In this series, I've also covered Slide and Mozes. Those interviews are below.)



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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.