Evan Williams isn't shutting the door on Twitter acquisition

Steven Loeb · August 31, 2016 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/4704

The co-founder, and former CEO, said Twitter would "have to consider the right options"

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Twitter is no stranger to acquisition rumors, which have only ramped up as it has continued to struggle, losing stock value while user numbers have flatlined.

There has been plenty of speculation about what the future holds for the company from pundits and investors, but now one of the company's co-founders has indirectly contributed to the rumors as well.

Speaking with Bloomberg's Emily Chang earlier this week, Evan Williams, co-founder, former CEO and current Twitter board member, was asked if Twitter could potentially be sold.

"We've seen a lot of M&A, do you see Twitter remaining an independent company?" Chang asked.

Williams' answer was initially, "no comment on that," but he did go a little further, saying, "We're in a strong position right now, I think, and, as a board member, we have to consider the right options."

While that is far from a full-throated endorsement of taking Twitter private again, it also was not a repudiation of the notion either, which leaves the door open on that option.

When it comes to which companies are most likely to be acquired, it seems like you can't throw a rock without hitting someone who believes Twitter's sale is imminent.

In June, Bob Peck, analyst at Suntrust Robinson Humphrey, wrote in a note that a sale was "inevitable" if the company didn't start doing the hokey pokey, aka turning itself around. A post from BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield on Monday speculated that all of Twitter's activity in live streaming sports was a way to get major media companies interested in a purchase.

I even wrote a piece like this myself after rumor started going around that Twitter was going to be purchased by News Corp in January. That turned out to be false. 

The most frequently assumed target for such a purchase is Google, mostly because of how badly that company wants to get into social. Last summer, when Twitter's stock dove under $30 for the first time ever, speculation of this sort rang up again. There was also a rumor in June of last year that Bloomberg had made a bid, but that turned out to be false as well. 

VatorNews reached out to Twitter for comment on Williams' statement. We will update this story if we learn more. 

Harassment on Twitter

Elsewhere in the interview, Williams was also asked about Twitter's on-going problem with harassment, which recently became a big issue after Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones was forced off the site by racist users, in a campaign led by conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos.

That was followed by a lengthy piece by Buzzfeed, which documented 10 years of the company apparently failing in this regard. Twitter, while desputing the premise, did recently take steps to curb the problem.

In the interview with Bloomberg, Williams lamented how online harassment has gotten worse over the years, and that Twitter didn't do enough to stop it sooner. 

"It's gotten worse, for sure. I think, early days of the Internet it was a little better, and we sort of felt like, it's a big club, and if you're there, you're welcome," he said.

"So much of the Internet has evolved with that same default framework, so, the idea that anyone can join any conversation is not something that we expect in the real world. And because so many wonderful things come from that online, there's a lot of desire to hold onto that ability, and, yet, it causes so much problems when you open it up to the mass of society."

It's hard to crack down on trolls, he said, because "the lines get blurry," and because of the philosophy of wanting to defend free speech.

"The principal of free speech is that you have to defend speech even if you don't agree with it. So, while it's not a legal requirement, because Twitter's a private entity, as are all these other services, it's a value that we hold, that people should be able to get out thoughts, even if they're unpopular."

That all being said, Williams did acknowledge that Twitter should have dealt with the growing problem sooner.

"I think we would have thought about a different architecture for the service had we known how severe this issue would get, because I think it really has gotten a lot worse in terms of the vitriol, and the severity of the attacks that some people suffer."

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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 Twitter.com, 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 Twitter.com, 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 Virginamerica.com 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.