Twitter China in the works, says Dorsey

Ronny Kerr · March 16, 2010 · Short URL:

In social media and digital activism discussion, Twitter creator says China channel coming soon

Twitter ChinaA discussion of social media and digital activism took place in New York on Monday evening, in which Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei asked Twitter creator Jack Dorsey whether we should expect there to ever be a Chinese-language version of Twitter's service.

"Is it possible to provide a Chinese access on Twitter?" Ai asked Dorsey. "I need a clear answer, yes or no."

"I would say yes. It's just a matter of time," responded Dorsey over teleconference.

Dorsey admits, of course, that the channel may not materialize for some time due to technical and legal issues.

Access to Twitter in China remains blocked, in line with the government's strict censorship regulations. Though some users can still occasionally break across the government's firewall, Ai believes it is imperative that Twitter offer a Chinese-language version of the site to make the service more useful for those who do not speak English.

"In China, we cannot see YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, and very soon, maybe not see Google," Ai said. "Basically it is society that forbids any flow of information and freedom of speech."

Ai's concerns are very real and timely.

Tension between the Chinese government and Google reached new heights last Friday when Li Yizhong, Chinese Minister of Industry and Information Technology, responded to the search engine company's threat to exit the country after discovering anti-activist email attacks originating from China.

"If you want to do something that disobeys Chinese law and regulations, you are unfriendly, you are irresponsible and you will have to pay the consequences," Li said.

Though Google may not even be the number one search engine in China, Ai understands that losing Google means losing a major part of the Web and represents another large blow to basic rights.

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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.