Trancript of Interview with Biz Stone by Elektrischer Reporter

The video of the interview can be found at Elektrischer Reporter.

Well Twitter is a very simple service, that asks people one question and the question is: „What are you doing?“. And they answer the question in 140 characters or less because we wrought??? the question back out to people who are following your updates on SMS, also instant message and also on the web and we create that constraint so that it works universally no matter what sort of device you prefer to use.

And in addition to be a simple service it is also a kind of a platform that other people are now building on top off. We were been very surprised by the amount of activity that went on the pa??? -ist da ein Schnitt? Fehlt da was? –

Very early on we thought it would be a good idea to open some of our infrastructure and let people play with it, though we had no idea that in under a yera there be more than 300 different applilcation build on top of it. Everywhere from simple timers like „call em up“ ?? 15 minutes and in 15 minutes you get a message back that says: call em up!

or you know whole services created on top of Twitter such as which is a map of the entiry world with real time updates popping up all over. Its very compelling to look at and makes the world seems so small.

Well basically my friend Jack Dorsey and I were working together on a different webstartup company in SF. Jack had this idea that was sort of in the back of his head. hhe had it for a littel while and he told me about it and he said:

I love Livejournal and I love blogging and I love that I can share my life with my friends but I wish there were a easier way to do it may be simpler may be more like a status field in an instant messager application.

And it was that same time that me and some of my collegues at work had been thinking what kind of virtual thing is going to tie global texting or SMS to the web so we can create kind of new services and Jacks idea seems like the perfect place to start.

So we actually just took a little time. Two weeks and we went off with actually another developer named Florian Weber who is originally from Berlin and with his help as a contractor we build a prototype of Twitter in about two weeks just enough to show it to the rest of the team and say what do you guys think about it? Use it over the weekend and tell us what you think.

And everyone was as excited about it as we were so we ended up deciding we should keep working on it. We had worked on it for a few month and we had just enough people using it that it was getting beginning to get a llittle bit of steam behind it and people are enjoying it.

A limited amount of people but just right kind of people because they turned out to be sort of tech saivy people who are interested in experimenting with new things.

And this idea of being able to send a text message that goes to a web site that goes routed to their friends that was very interesting to them.

We went to a conference in Texas which is a confernece for interactive film and music professionals and Twitter is very – äh – its nice to keep in touch with your friends and family on a regular day to day basis but when you are out on a event where everything is sort of compressed and you are really want to know what is everyone doing right now, where we are going tonight, where we are going for a drink or where is the next party.

It got a lot of use at that conference and it sort of – And from there — And while we were there we won an award from South by South West – and just from there it continued to grow and we got a lot of buzz – a lot of word of mouth buzz.

We actually dont release the total number of users or updates. Thats something what we keep to ourselfs. But so intersting just factual information ist that back to the API. There is about twenty times more traffic on the API than there is on our website.

So it further diminishes the importance of the web. How it is more important that we have a open infrastructure and than we work over SMS and IM and there are other ways that people can connect the site just logging on to a computer.

Tying them all together and being agnostic about the devices that we use has been really important to us. So. thats twenty times mor traffic.

Another thing that I find intersting ist that 90% of the people who use Twitter choose to keep their updates public and only 10% mark them private for their friends. I think this speaks to a general willingness for people to communicate out in the open more and more these days.

Certainly not as much as it is in Germany and in the rest of Europe in general. It is very much more popular here as it is in the US. However as it grows in the US so does Twitter. So we are in a great spot where there is a lot of friends and people inviting their family members to Twitter because they want to keep up.

And their family members are getting introduced to mobile texting the first time and they think Twitter! Oh ist that what it is, Twitter: that´s texting? Great I choose it. So there is still a lot of catching up to do but it is a great position for us to be in because we get to grow along with the number of users using text messaging in general.

Initially we weren´t sure. When we created Twitter we know we loved it and we know the first week that we tried it we were actually gigling because we couldn´t believe like that we are getting real time updates and they were so fun to get.

But we weren´t sure that evveryone was gone like it especially around the world. Maybe it was just a thing in SF that people like to do. So when we started to see different companies popping up all around the world in Germany and everywhere else that were emulating the user experience thats when we knew this is definitly a marketable real product that we should continue to work on.

So rather than being discouraged we actually were encouraged to put even more effort into it and said this is great lets work on it and lets open the API and if other people want to create similar services on top of our API great. So for us it´s been kind of a validation that its a good idea.

Well we have few business models in mind. Some of them are obvious and others are more intersting but the thing is the business models don´t mean a heck of a lot until we have a very compellling service.

So we are a small team. So right now the business model we have in mind are they are kicking along and they are working but they are sort of in the wings while we focus on user experience and growing the network, because once we have a really compelling product it will make a lot more sense to than introduce the monetarisation aspect.

So we are taking our time on that, we are going slow and we want to make sure that we introduce a business model in a way that everyone is happy and all the users are intersted in it. So for now we actually spending more money than we are making because we are not actively engaging and actually deploying the busines model.

The company is currently funded – about a month or two ago we took venture capital funding for a New York based firm called Union Square Ventures and also a bunch of angel investors and another vc-firm.

To me it sounds like almost it is the same old thing. I can imagine back when they invented the telegraph that people were saying: „If its works than its worser than on a horse. What is that sending information back and forth?! Trivial, trivial!“

But meanwhile it is connecting the world together and it is a very important information source. It doesn´t matter what the content of a individual message is. Yes it may be very trivial and silly. In fact the word „twitter“ means short burst of trivial information.

I think that what´s important is that people are connecting and they are sending emotional messages back to one another that means something to them. And so sure you can look at the public time line you can look at the strangest messages about what they had for lunch and of course you can feel that thats trivial.

But when you look at whats going on underneath and you realize that there is a lot of people are using it to communicate and coordinate and do interesting things. There is activism going on. There is people in Egypt who are using it go against the goverment to bring about change.

So this man right here, his name is Alaa. He is an agyptian activist and he has been in several sort of sketchy situations or he has been detained for questioning for untold periods of time.

And he started using Twitter to keep his followers updated or other activists Where his whereabouts are, he is talking to the police, where he is headed, whats going on with certain campaigns that they are working on.

And in this way all his followers are constantly being updated he is ok. So if he stops twittering something is going wrong. Or if he needs to twitter like I just been picked, I am in jail, his followers can instantly launch into kind of a free Alaa campaign like they have done in the past to get him back out of jail.

And a interesting story that Evan told us was that there was this one situation where one of our friends his name is Abdhul Monehm??? and he is a leading activist for the opposition party in Egypt and Alaa got wind that his friend was about to be picked up like in a very quietly just outside of his home. There was plans to go snatch him basically and take him and detain him for questioning.

So Alaa set it up to Twitter and Alaa has hundred and twenty or so followers and in an instant all his followers went to Abduhl??? s house and were immediately surrounded and they made a very public spectacle of this.

And also the surrounding – when the authorities came by to try to pick him up it was this whole big deal and they just kind of passed on it, the whole situation was diffused. And sort of the idea being that – because of the mediacy of Twitter and the fact that it is mobile this guy was able to get out of this situation.

So there is always like really sort of much more important use cases for a very simple tool it turns out that we never expected which why we continue to work on it.

Sure – one message is trivial but to that I would say look at it in the aggregate and take a larger view of the technology and than maybe try it out yourself before you look at the public timeline and just miss it.

You know I dont think – I think we already are. I mean you know why do people buy fancy cars – why love they to dress up. Are they exhibitionist? Or is it just the way we function as people?
We communicate in more ways than just mailing letters back and forth.

We communicate by body language, by clothes by what we choose to drive what we choose to do. And more and more I think using the internet and other technologies people are communicating to one and another but they are keeping the communcation open so that people (10:19((can understand other people what )?)?)) they are saying as a way of self expression.

So you can look at it as exhibitionism but you can also look at it as social behaviour where you are inviting strangers into your conversation so that you can make a friend so that you can make a business contact.

For me using blogging all this years has turned into a career. I mean I was invited to write books about social media and thats a dramatic example of just putting my thoughts in the web and having someone invite you to write a book.

On Twitter very simple things happen like you twitter that you have just arrived in Amsterdam and suddenly someone contacts you and says: I live in Amsterdam would you mind if I took you out for a beer and showed you around.

So thats creating a social value out of a seemingly trivial message and I think it is kind of like a social alchemy that takes place. All this alledgingly meaningless stuff but from it comes value.

I think it is this term like social alchemy that I just mentioned before. Its this idea that by remaining open and by letting all this stuff thats on the web and now coarsing through instant messaging IM and textmessaging and everything – its all melting together in an interesting way and there is a lot of value coming out of it.

I mean even if you just look at Twitter like we did a few weeks ago we took one hour of one day and we extracted just the verbs from that day so we could see who – what are people watching, eating listening to, looking at.

So from one hour we can get a slice of a certain section of the world. What are people wachting what are their favorite TV-shows?

I think that all this open data on the web is creating like a new source for finding about ourselfs and for meeting other people and just learning more about ourselfs. So I think the open factor of everything is going to be huge. And you see that reflected as well in companies, you see big companies more and more interested in being open and having APIs and allowing their services to create more surface area so that more people can extract more value on their own terms.