Biz Stone Answers Your Twitter Questions

INSERT DESCRIPTIONJoi Biz Stone

Last week we solicited your questions for Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. In the interim, Twitter has announced it will begin verifying some high-profile accounts to make sure the Tweeters aren’t impersonators. What was most interesting to me about your questions was that so many of them were skeptical of Twitter’s underlying value.

Is this an indictment of Twitter itself or just a collective decision to no longer be wowed by the latest social-networking tool to come down the pike? In any case, thanks to Stone for participating and all of you for the questions.

Question

Why 140 characters? What’s so special about 140? — Owlette

Answer

We took our cue from the limit on SMS, which is 160, but we wanted to leave room for the author of the message, so we standardized on 140. Additionally, we wanted all Twitter messages to appear in their entirety no matter the device — we wanted to be device agnostic.

Question

Roughly when do you see Twitter becoming a profitable company? (I assume it’s not currently.) — Chuck

Answer

We will begin experimenting with revenue generation this year, although we’re not looking to hit a home run right away. Our long-term goal is to build a profitable company of enduring value, so generating revenue is going to become increasingly important as we mature.

Question

Do you ever just look at a page of Tweets and think, “who cares?” — kdg

Answer

If I have found my way to a page of Tweets, then there was some intent in doing so. In seeking out this information I have already signaled that I care. That being said, if I decide tweets from a particular source are no longer relevant to me, I will unfollow.

Question

What are a couple of the most interesting things you’ve learned by reading various strangers’ tweets? — Ben

Answer

Most of the time I learn of breaking news via the tweets of strangers because I click through from the trends. News of the attacks in Mumbai, the plane landing in the Hudson, and, more recently, the unfortunate death of David Carradine all came to me via the tweets of strangers.

Question

How do you consistently get the ball rolling when starting a new social media site? How did you convince people to join Twitter when there were only a few hundred or thousand users? — Chris Y.

Answer

We never convinced people to use Twitter — we simply provided a tool they didn’t know they needed until they tried it. When Twitter began to emerge as a useful system, more and more people joined, which in turn made it more valuable.

Question

Twitter seems dominated by businesses, politicians, and people looking to seek connections, rather than by users who use it as a means of communicating with friends. Is there a fear that Twitter will become so dominated by businesses (and/or politicians) seeking the free advertising that it will make Twitter wholly unattractive to the average consumer? — Trevor L.

Answer

Folks use Twitter to follow sources of information that they find compelling. We will make it easier to discover those sources which are relevant and meaningful. As long as people can share, discover, and communicate that which is important to them, Twitter will remain attractive.

Question

How do you vet changes to your user interface? Are you looking to make most of the people happy at the risk of offending a few? Do you check with a core group of heavy users? Focus groups? — Dave

Answer

We watch for usage patters and listen to email, blogs, and tweets every day for feedback. Many of the features we have launched were created by users including @replies, and there are more to come. Recently, we have begun socializing new feature ideas in advance of launching to gather immediate reaction and feedback. We also test internally since everyone who works at Twitter is also an active user.

Question

According to the Times‘s Economix blog, “Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one” and “the top 10 percent of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90 percent of tweets.” Do these numbers concern you? Is it bothersome that most users never send out more than one message via Twitter? — C. Larity

Answer

This report is not necessarily accurate or credible so I cannot comment on it specifically. I will however say that Twitter is in it’s infancy and there is much work to be done from a product perspective. We think there is much to be done to make Twitter better.


P

You need a Twitter account even if you just want to follow feeds and read other people's content, so saying that the median number of tweets is 1 is pretty meaningless.

If every person who wanted to read a blog on Blogger needed to set up their own blog, there would be many, many completely empty blogs that were set up for reading purposes only.

cdelphine

@P - If the feed is public, anyone can view it and I think that you can use it just like a blog in a program like googlereader.

Gerald Azenaro

"Twitter seems dominated by businesses, politicians, and people looking to seek connections, rather than by users who use it as a means of communicating..."

"Folks use Twitter to follow sources of information..."

Why does he not call it what it is: Propaganda, PR, and advertising, with a little of "My cat just threw up" thrown in. Nothing the internet needs.

Alex

Regarding the last question, I think the 10/90 issue is actually common throughout the internet and doesn't speak to the viability of twitter. I've heard similar figures about yahoo questions, for instance. 10% of the people are 'posters' or active users, and the majority of us are lurkers (or occasional freakonomics posters. :)).
I think that's just the nature of people: a significantly smaller proportion of a group is responsible for the largest proportion of communication/info sharing. I'm not an anthropologist, but I bet this was as true in a village of 200 in the year 1250 as it is on twitter today.

Don Sakers

I'm a big fan of Twitter and use it mostly for its social-networking function, i.e. to keep ambient awareness of scattered friends and coworkers at other sites. It suits us well.

If Twitter doesn't suit other people, they should not use it. There's no need to call it names and imply that those who like it are corporate shills or idiots.

Why do some people feel like they have to badmouth something that others find useful and fun?

Christopher

Your blog has had quite a few very interesting people interviewed here. And more often than not when they come from a coporate perspective, the answers are complete marketing doublespeak.

The Hulu CEO and now this guy. No digging, no real answers.

I love this blog, but I wish you'd handle the interviews a little better and dig out some info.

gestion

I agree with Christopher, there is almost no information in these short and predictable answers.

Geoff

I'd echo 6 and 7. When the answer is shorter than your question, you're not getting much info from the interview.

I'd be willing to bet he's vague because the twitter peeps truly aren't sure where to take the application next. They've become wildly popular in a short amount of time, and now have to figure out a way to become longterm and viable within their 140 framework. His vague answer about funding is sort of troubling.

And where do they go from here? The nice part about twitter, at least from what I gather, is it's simplicity. They're going to have to walk a fine line between adding new features and keeping to the original product's charm. The public doesnt need a new Facebook.

Still, nice for him to field the questions.

Chris

Twitter's only value is their established user base; the technology is ridiculously simple to duplicate, and the Twitter guys know that. I'm guessing they'll sell out pretty soon for a few hundred mil.

James

Best question of all: Why does it take weeks for support to reply to a support ticket?

Geoff

Have ya'll been hearing about the protests in Tehran? Allegedly, websites are being taken down by twitter attacks and the crowds are mobilizing around twitter, which because of its capabilities allows the people to avoid communication restrictions. Andrew Sullivan, no matter your views of him, is posting a ton of these messages and providing regular updates from readers in Tehran and looking into the effectiveness of twitter. I've linked below, but be forewarned, one of his posts has images with blood.

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/06/livetweeting-the-revolution.html

Gdub

Twitter is a tool that can be used however you please. Aside from SEO folks, PR, and Marketing leeches, there are serious thinkers, news-makers, and my favorite, genuinely hilarious folks. There's nothing that makes me have to pay any attention to the stuff I don't want to see.That's the genius of Twitter.