Monday, May 21, 2007

On Twitter

Photo: Kris Krug

An interview with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone:

VM: How did the team settle on "What are you doing?" as the default Twitter question – was there any debate, were any alternatives proposed, or did the final core question just seem obvious?

BS: We built the prototype for Twitter in two weeks and as it is now, the UI was very simple. At some point Jack and I were reviewing the interface and felt that just an empty update box was not as inviting as it could be so we tried putting "What are you doing?" above the box and we kept it.

VM: Twitter seems obsessed with everyday existence – lots of users seem to post updates on the mundane waypoints of daily life. Has the nature of the content surprised you? Is it evolving in a particular direction?

BS: We're not surprised by the everyday nature of Twitter updates because this is very much how we envisioned the use. People use Twitter to stay in touch in a casual, ambient manner. Part of the allure of Twitter is that it's simple and low-pressure so it lends itself well to easy, lifestyle type updates.

VM: Twitter users collectively post a massive volume of updates to a publicly accessible and archived system (compared to instant messaging, where communications are on a one-one basis and generally dissolve when the chat window is closed.) The posts must be growing into a huge volume of data, all focused on the same core question (setting twitter apart from the unfocused noise of blogs). Are there plans for analyzing all that data – finding some way of looking back, and putting things in context? Was this perpetual public archive aspect of the service something that was discussed or considered as twitter was created – or is it just a side effect?

BS: We are planning on digging in to the data a bit more and finding ways of allowing users to visualize their own data in interesting new ways. To the extent that a collection of updates is useful to an individual user, we thought early on that there was value there.

VM: Twitter lowers the threshold of what kind of event warrants world-wide notification. How does the act of updating itself begin to change or influence the events that inspired the update?

BS: Twitter is not about world-wide notification for most users. Folks who use Twitter on a regular basis do so to stay in touch with a handful of friends and relatives. However, they also tend to leave their updates public (rather than 'protected' which means out of the public eye) so there is the potential that they could reach a wider audience. Anecdotally, we haven't noticed Twitter influence the event that inspires an update except to say that it can add another dimension to the moment -- the fact that you're twittering it means you recognize it as unique moment in time.

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