#7: Evan Williams’s Talk With University of Nebraska-Lincoln Students

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On Friday, April 10, 2009, Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, was a guest speaker at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications.  I couldn’t help but notice his bright green socks, and his verbosity (unexpected given his primary medium).  This is my account of his talk, mostly summarized but quoted where appropriate.  I conclude this post with media that has emerged since that time.

BUT FIRST: Evan’s Tweet to me, confirming his UNL appearance!

Me and Evan Williams, just chillin' ;)

Me and Evan Williams, just chillin' 😉

From Clarks, NE to Twitter

Evan Williams (@ev) is native Nebraskan. Williams grew up in the town of Clarks, NE (population 361), and graduated high school from Columbus, NE (population 21,399). He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 1990-92.  He said he became impatient, and had no real plan but wanted to start a company. So, he left during his sophomore year and went to Florida.  In 1993, he came back to Nebraska and started internet publishing with his dad.  During this time, he “got the vision” to do something big on the internet.

From Blogger to Twitter

Williams worked on his first big project, Blogger, for four years before selling it to Google in early 2003.  He then moved on to for Odeo, and dealed in podcasting and experimental web to mobile texting.  Twitter emerged as a side project, with about a dozen users.  Williams described the beginning as low volume, and very social.

Naming Twitter

Williams described the naming of Twitter as “fortunate.”  It was selected from a list devised during a brainstorming session with the other employees.  He noted that naming was very important, even saying, “I obsess about it.”  Originally the vowels were omitted, producing “twttr.”  Williams said they eventually “bought the vowels,” so to speak.  “The sound captured the word,” and it was good.

140 Character Limit

Williams said initially he didn’t fully understand the practicality of the 140 character limit.  Originally designed for sms, the limit needed to provide room for “username: (msg).” Williams says the limit provides the “power of constraint,” driving creativity and breaking the pressure for profound thoughts.

In The Beginning

Twitter officially hit the scene in July of 2006, but, as Williams said, “no one really knew that.” The problem was partially the design of the UI (user interfacte). Williams cited common perception as, “OK I get it…what is the point?” He also said the site is “easy to trivialize,” for “Why would you have the audacity to publish? No one cares.”  Another negative idea was, “Blogging was filling up the internet.” From those beginnings, Twitter has evolved to include everything from the “most personal, to CNN headlines, to Starbucks, to celebs.”

Audience Question/Answer

Q: Who is your favorite follow?
A: My wife – she’s super funny and makes me giggle.

Q: How do you deal with impersonators?
A: Parody is ok, like the “FakeSteveJobs.” We try to stop impersonation, because don’t want the users tricked.

Q: Are their plans to for Twitter to release TweetDeck like app? (my question)
A: No, but we encourage others to modify and create with our API.

Q: About the Google acquiring Twitter rumor…
A: “No Comment” – We’re just starting to build the company. No clear reason for doing it now, but Google is attractive since ½ dozen Twitter employees formerly worked there.

Q: Do you have ideas for after Twitter?
A: Lots of ideas! Originally thought would just get Twitter started, but became CEO 6 months ago. It’s the most interesting idea, and possibly biggest, and he wants to create as big of impact as possible. However, he wants someone to reinvent e-mail, and has ideas himself, but no time.

Q: Do you have a solution to attract a younger audience?
A: Williams talked about having a different business model than other sites, such as Facebook which is primarily two-way communication, and highly a photosharing site. Twitter, however, is one-to-many communication in real-time. This is why the different audience.

Q: How do you feel about the rumor Facebook redesign was jealousy over Twitter?
A: “No comment” – “But yes, I have heard that”

Q: Twitter and Journalism
A: Williams talked to the effect that social media makes it harder for reporters to break news when the person can now do it just as easily themselves. Those using Twitter as a source use it as to find leads & snoop for hints, such as US Weekly following all the celebs on Twitter.

Q: What is Twitter’s revenue source?
A: “Investing funds to build long-term value” – Did say not making money right now, because focus is to “enhance and deliver.”

Q: When will you allow your child to start Twittering?
A: As soon as they have a name, then probably get an account.

Q: Twitter and the Speed of Life
A: Twitter is a tool and a cause. A goal is to make Twitter a filter for relevant information. Yes, it may increase the speed, but it is useful.

Video From NewsNetNebraska

  • Click here to see Williams describe Twitter’s creation.
  • Click here to see Williams talk about the name “Twitter.”
  • Click Here to see Williams explain the 140 character limit.

Links About aplusk/Oprah Twitter-Storm

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