I met with Ev at Twitter headquarters yesterday, a prelude to our conversation in less than two weeks time at Web 2 (I also spoke with him last year). As usual he was in a thoughtful mood, though an unexpected visit from Biz added some levity to the proceedings.
Williams will be the final speaker at Web 2 this year, a program that begins with Eric Schmidt, continues with Robin Li, Ari Emmanuel, Shantanu Narayen, Jim Balsille, Mark Zuckerberg, Carol Bartz, and so many more.
So by the time we get to Ev’s session, something of a grand narrative should have unfolded, if I’ve done my job right. And it feels right to me to conclude with Twitter, because it is at once the growth story of the year, as well as the enigma – what, exactly, *is* Twitter, now that the service is pushing 200 million users and on the verge of a truly scaleable revenue model?
I found Ev’s thoughts refreshing. He recently handed the CEO title over to Dick Costolo (see my interview of him here), and is focusing on product. As we spoke, however, it strikes me that “product’ is a bit too pedestrian a term for the issues and opportunities that Ev is tackling. They have a tiger by the tail. But what, exactly, is the nature of this tiger?
Twitter is a service, most would say, one that, by its own definition, is “the best way to discover what’s new in your world.” But it’s also a network, one with important social overtones – Twitter has created a public attention and interest graph. And it’s a platform, on which many developers have created applications and services. And of course it’s an emerging standard, of sorts, not unlike email – a set of protocols for short messaging that has become a de facto standard across the web (including mobile, of course). And related: Twitter is beginning to challenge search in terms of driving referral traffic around the web.
But Twitter wants to be more than just a protocol, Ev tells me, and that leads to perhaps the most contentious debate around the company: Should it be centralized, or decentralized? Those who have invested their time or resources in the Twitter “ecosystem” are increasingly complaining that Twitter should stick to a decentralized service model, letting other companies create value at the point of usage – in essence, let the developers determine how best to use Twitter. After all, that was how the service started. But Twitter has made it clear that it has more robust plans. It’s not that the company doesn’t want developers adding value, Williams argues, it’s that the company wants developers to add value beyond what’s possible right now. And to do that, Twitter has work to do on its own platform.
We’ll be talking about this and much more when we convene in ten days. What do you want to hear about from Ev? Here are a few questions to get your thoughts started, please leave yours in comments.
- How is the “new Twitter” doing? What have you learned from how usage patterns have changed? Can you share any data on how Twitter is being used now that might give us new insights?
- Tell us about the transition from CEO to founder with product focus? How is that going?
- The ongoing grumbling over Twitter obviating developers’ businesses by adding new features and services. What is your philosophy there? What do you wish developers would create that they are not creating now? What work does Twitter have to do to help developers create more sustainable, long term value?
- How are the new ad programs going? Tell us about the tests with HootSuite (in stream promoted tweets). When might we expect this to roll out at scale?
- One of the chief complaints about Twitter is finding relevance and signal from all the tweets. Are you working on this and what might we expect in the future? Might we expect to see “relevance” in the timeline?
- What do you make of the whole “open vs. closed” debate – and the “Web is Dead” meme? Can we unpack the decentralized vs. centralized debate?
- There have been rumors of another big financing. Shall we put them to rest?
Let me know your thoughts in comments. And while you are at it, click on over to my posts for Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, RIM’s Jim Balsillie, DST’s Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Baidu’s Robin Li, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz and Google’s Eric Schmidt and add your thoughts there as well.