Evan Williams Keynote Interview

Loose notes from SXSW 2010 session: Evan Williams Keynote Interview

Director of the Havas Media Lab Umair Haque interviews Twitter founder Evan Williams (@ev). The interview began with technical difficulties, segued into a way-too-brief introduction to the new integration platform @anywhere, got interesting for a little while, then became mired into  me-centric, smug ramblings of an interviewer who appeared more interested in showing off his own intelligence than in extracting juicy bits from the interviewee. Eventually the whole thing turned into a train wreck, with audience members walking out in droves. The back-channel was brutal to Haque, and attendees were walking out in droves. A full third of the audience left out of boredom after half an hour. Almost embarrassing to watch.

Announcing new “at” platform (though, strangely enough, the promised “ad” platform never materialized).

@anywhere – platform for integrating twitter into web sites, with almost full functionality. Reduces friction. No strict rules around it. A lot that can be done that we can’t anticipate. You can tweet from the column itself, or follow the columnist straight from their byline without going back to twitter. Discovery is one of the hardest challenge. Putting things in context is essential.

Gives authors a connection to users that they didn’t have before. Should result in having more of your Twitter-using audience discussing your sites content. You can also bring their discussion back into your site’s post. Amp up your site’s network effect.

This is not an ad platform, it’s an @ platform.

Experimentation is what leads you to creating value. As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that whatever you assume when you start out, you’re wrong.

What is Twitter has always been an ironically difficult question to answer. It’s an info network that helps people discover what’s going on in the world that they care about. You can take advantage of it without participating. That’s valuable too. Focusing on increasing the signal-noise ratio.

As we grow, one of the pain points is having big centralized decision making points. We’re trying to give various units and departments as much autonomy as possible, trying to stay out of their way. There’s a parallel between the culture of the company and the culture of users who use the product. Open as possible on both ends.

What’s the keyword? Openness or transparency? A door is open, a window is transparent.

“Assume their are more smart people working outside the company than there are inside.”

The flipside of openness is giving the golden goose away.

Most of us think of business as a game of hoarding. But in this case creating maximum value is about creating maximum openness. So it was a tough decision whether to license our content stream to Bing, Google, and Yahoo.

So many “deep experiences” still to be had. e.g. a hardware device hooked up to a baker’s oven. “Bread is done!”

But if we were infinitely open, we’d be doing a disservice to our users. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on out there. Being open makes it easy to spam our service for example. We send cease and desist letters daily to companies building tools that claim to build your follower base the fastest (good for them).

Ecosystems need management, they need shepherding. They need to grow inclusively. Expanding market boundaries to be more inclusive.

We’ve always found it important to reach the people with the weakest signals. Hence the importance of keeping the SMS capability. Example from success in Chilean earthquake… thousands of people without internet connection able to spread word, get relief to others, spread word. Strong growth in India. Sections of Middle East now covered. This stuff is making a difference.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has been using Twitter in an authentic way. It’s become an official channel but they’re using it in a new way. Less artificial/stilted than the usual political communication.

Reducing friction between people is one of the most fundamental promises of the internet. It’s about democratization of information. If you can share to the world with as few barriers as possible, we’re succeeding. It’s easy to take this for granted. We haven’t yet realized the full effects of it. This will change the way institutions work for decades to come.

There is a counter-force in the world today: State control of information. The open flow of information is not a benefit to people who live under regimes that don’t let it reach them. Firewalls can become a porous, via SMS penetration, or proxy servers.


Interviewer is horrible. People running for the exits. The badness of this interview is parallel to the Sarah Lacy debacle. Williams is OK, interviewer is awful. Quote: “The principle of betterness is about creating thick value.” Ugh.

If you live on the web, you’re used to having a relationship with companies, vendors, strangers that you don’t have in the real world. The loop gets closed.

“Everything is infinitely expandable once you zoom in on it.”

On the internet, we’ve all been participating in this joint brain storm for a decade and a half. But the big brainstorms come from people who don’t get sucked into it. People outside of Silicon Valley. It’s very hard to think differently inside SV.

“Think big… but small.”

2 Replies to “Evan Williams Keynote Interview”

  1. I agree with you, I was there and the interviewer was putting me to sleep. Too much build up before the questions. Just the pace and tone of the interview was wrong, slow and not very attractive. It’s a shame because a lot of people left the room very disappointed. Some Q&A from the audience would’ve been great.



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