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Evan Williams at Web 2: What's In A Platform?

By - November 04, 2010

_@user_40285.jpgI 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.

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  • http://traffic.de.com Norbert Mayer-Wittmann

    That “poor man’s email” thing was funny, wasn’t it?

    There is no doubt that twitter showed a lot of promise because it was new and revolutionary. But at some point it seems like someone decided it should be mainstream — and that was probably premature.

    What happened is that something potentially powerful was turned into something pretty passé.

    I have no idea how “the new twitter” is doing because I haven’t tried it out yet — which is to say it doesn’t interest me. That ought to be a big warning signal — but unlike the early days, now it seems that the twitter vision is now uninspired and therefore not very inspirational.

    If twitter hadn’t pandered to mainstream media, then it might have had a chance of becoming significant. Now it looks like it could be little more than lame.

    IMO a huge missed opportunity.

    :| nmw

  • http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com Tom

    Twitter has its uses… its a simple concept with at least occasional utility for many…

    Its power is not in its technology, nor particularly in its implementation.(though ultimately that’s a vital component)

    Its power is in its user-base… and the timing of its launch within this new evolving landscape…

    Because of the self-reinforcing nature of increasing size… these are niches which inevitably will tend to concentrate in only a few players…

    (increased size increases utility)…

    However here there is little to anchor the user to the service other than inertia and the presence of others also using the service. This may or may not be enough!

    There are few things that will really ‘anchor’ a user to a particular platform or service.

    I believe this is one:

    The Commons-dedicated Account:

    A self-supporting , neutral network of accounts for both political and charitable monetary contribution… which for fundamental reasons of scale must allow a viable micro-transaction (think x-box points for action in the Commons).

    The resultant network catalyzes additional functionality for co-ordination of other ‘social energy’ utilization.

    (If desired, It’s also the most neutral and ultimately politically viable method for the public finance of elections.)

    Has just been GRANTED A PATENT by USPTO for its groundbreaking mechanism for political/charitable contribution and reporting! (no, this is not a software patent)

    Enabling simple networked citizen lobbying… most essentially liberated by making an online political ‘micro-transaction’ easily feasible for the User… (without burdening it with the transaction costs which currently keep it off the table of consideration)…

    catalyzes a network of accounts that, in turn facilitates opportunities for enormously reducing the costs of campaigning while bringing candidate selection closer to the people. (The political micro-contribution, even where only occasionally useful, drives the creation of a stable universally distributed network of primary importance for scaled association and decision.)

    It may not be immediately clear why this DOES NOT encourage polarization but rather its opposite…

    Why Politics MUST be Localized
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/10/why-politics-must-be-localized.html

    Empowering the Commons: The Dedicated Account (Part I)
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/08/empowering-commons-dedicated-account.html

    Political Fundraising: Act Blue, Facebook and the Missing Network Imperative
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/08/political-fundraising-act-blue-facebook.html

    LinkedIn
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/culturalengineer

    Demo & FAQ
    http://www.Chagora.com

    Hopefully USEFUL financial innovation will eventually find some support.

    Developing a capable electorate involves much more than any single innovation can satisfy… however some innovations act as catalysts for greater change. This is just such a catalyst. While it may seem paradoxical… this is a lever which in time will (I believe) REDUCE the amount of money in politics, LOWER the costs of campaigns, AND lead to the development of a more responsible electorate.

    Capability ENABLES Responsibility…

    (Pssst… that’s why when people feel essentially disenfranchised and helpless they scapegoat and polarize.)

    P.S. The political micro-contribution along with other system benefits and capabilities encourage the User to then use this system for ALL contribution political AND charitable.

    I’m not going to write a hundred page piece here but that, in turn leads to some real opportunities for this enterprise… and especially for it’s users.

    Its the key to a vital and very stable network.

  • Steve

    Pretty simple set of usage questions:

    1. So of the 200 million users, how many use it on a daily/weekly basis?

    2. What is the average number of followers and tweets per person?

  • http://chbearstar.tumblr.com Christopher Hill

    Please can we take the URL’s out of the message space? Why not change the Tweet box into a blog post formate with a separate space for entering links? Sent messages could have a bird logo at the end to represent each link to click.

  • http://traffic.de.com Norbert Mayer-Wittmann

    OK, I saw your tweet about “no questions” and I have to admit I didn’t really ask a question (at least not a serious one)… so here goes:

    Question for Evan Williams

    What’s the difference between “content” and “advertising”?

    (that’s it ;)

    I bet you and Mark Zuckerberg could go on and on about that (e.g. see also http://past.blog.com/2009/01/17/on-the-web-its-freedom-2-publishing-0 to refresh your memory :)

    I hope that you two have a nice chat and look forward to what comes from it!

    :) nmw