Live Blogging SXSW: Ev Williams Keynote

Ev Williams At SXSW

Live blogging from SXSW continues, with Twitter cofounder Ev Williams to take the stage shortly. Will he announce Twitter’s rumored ad plans, as expected? Stay tuned for the news.

Umair Haque of Havas Media Lab is doing the interview with Ev. Ev says he wanted to announce his new @anywhere platform, to integrate Twitter into web sites.

Say browsing HuffPost and see mention of Saturday Night Light, you can hover and see if they are following and then subscribe to them. That’s one feature. You can also use it to sign in to a web site, using Twitter ID. Publications can also offer you to follow select users. NY Times, Bing, YouTube, Ad Age are among 13 launch companies.

Umair, so what’s different with this?

Ev, it reduces friction. You could easily tweet from a column you’re reading. You might just want to follow a columnist right from their byline, without having to go back to Twitter. That’s a hard thing they’ve found about Twitter, hard to find what you want to follow.

Umair, can see benefits if a user, but what about site owner?

Ev, gives you a connection back to users that you didn’t have before. Should result in more followers for sites, rather than sending out links. Should also get more of your audience talking about your content on it (hey, Twitter getting all Facebook).

Umair, on his blog at Harvard Business Review, seems like Twitter meets a bunch of critieria of an ad platform (I think he said).

First thing is experimentation, why are you willing to explore different business model possibilities (uh, because they didn’t have one?).

Ev says learned whenever you start out assuming you know something, you’re wrong, Inevitably, it’s going to take experimentation. Google thought they’d sell search services to others, for example.

We’re still focused on how do we create the best experience for users. Lots of business use happens on Twitter already today. Business opt in all the time.

Umair, what is Twitter evolving to?

Ev, what is twitter has always been ironically hard to answer. They think of it as an information network. To find and share. First point is key, you can discover but don’t have to share. That’s valuable to use. But it’s like saying what is the internet. It’s an information network. What’s it for? The value we’re focusing on today is increasing the signal to noise ratio. If you are sharing stuff, how do you get that to people who really care?

Umair, How do you handle the experimentation?

Ev. Lots of people. They’ve tried to organize people into autonomous units around particular products or goals. We have these teams and say go for it, and we try to give them the resources they need.

Umair, what’s your role? Do you spec the problem? Dive in?

Ev, I don’t get into the nuts and bolts of code, because then things would be a big mess. I spend most of my time thinking from a high level, then I get into the nitty gritty of user experiences. Then spend about (half I think he said) his time on how to build the company culture, how to adopt the characteristics that they want. There’s a parellel between the company they want and the business they want. Open and transparent internally and as a service.

Umair, question on being open.

Ev: A window is tranparent; a door is open. Window lets people see what you’re doing. A door lets them enter and play. Learned from letting people in. Things like hashtags, those have come from users, and developers have built experiences with that. Talk he gives to new employees, assume more smart people outside than inside, which idea he got from Bill Joy.

Umair, does being open give the golden goose away?

Ev, big debate on this inside Twitter, especially when doing deals with Bing and Google last year and when they knew they didn’t have a business model yet. How do you protect the long term value. So went back to principle of how increase the value of the network. Google and Microsoft help that because in the 50 million tweets per day, are most people seeing the best? They’re not, they know that. And billions don’t see tweets at all. Tapping into the technology of these partners helps. It’s as easy as that. One we realized that, we figured then that’s going to be good for us and valuable for us ultimately.

Umair, was there a lot of internal debate?

Ev, there was tons (you know, like he just told you). A few weeks ago announced plans to license data to much wider variety of people, it’s letting a thousand flowers bloom.

Umair, how about verticalization?

Ev, seeing some of that, developers focusing on shortening links, or sharing photos, or apps on iPhone or other platforms. Developers have created phenomonal value for users and us. Cotweet, Hootsuite good examples of Twitter for customer support, but itself was never built for that. They focus on building a great interface for that. There’s a hardware device for bakers to tweet, the cookies are out of the oven, come get them (think he’s joking).

Umair, some want to regulate an ecosystem, like Apple in its app store.

Ev, we’re pretty open. There is some control. If we were infinitely open, we’d be doing a disservice to our users. Openness can be used against you. Having open API makes it easy to build apps to spam Twitter. They send cease and desist letters to companies every day that make the ultimate get Twitter followers tool and using our brand. And there are a lot of people following these people becasue they don’t know how to use Twitter. The need some shepherding.

Umair, you’ve had interesting use of Twitter like after quake in Chile.

Ev, thanks for the setup, he says, as he reads an email to support. Sorry, I’m Chilean, this is the only way I found to thank you. Twitter has helped in communication there, and writer gave some examples. That’s gratifying. They want Twitter to reach the weakest signals. Focus first was big on SMS and was important to us. Happy they have deals with 65 different carries. Valuable to those who don’t have internet access but do have phones. There are reasons where getting a simple message as short as a tweet can be important. Hearing in Chile there’s going to be a torrential downpour when you can’t get a weather report helps. In Haiti reached deal to extend coverage, places in Middle East coming on board.

Umair, what is an active user. Is everyone Tweeting al the time, is that an active users?

Ev, to me, it comes back to is someone getting value out of Twitter. If they’re searching Google and come up with a tweet on a regular basis, then we consider them a users. It could be that they’re searching on our site, or using a 3rd party app to find out about their brand. We have a pretty wide definition of user. We’re trying to lower the barrier. It’s evolving. At beginning it was tell the world what you’re doing. But now we’re at this point where there is something interesting on Twitter to everyone. Updates from Flaming Lips band, for example. Also as people start to consume on Twitter, we think they’ll get more involved. That can be as simple as a retweet.

Umair, heard White House press secretary using it now?

Ev, White House press secretary is now using Twitter in a more authentic way, sending some jokes, anecdotes about watching Olympics in the White House. Drops walls between influencers and those the influence. Thinks that’s one of the most profound promises of the internet. Riding the wave he helped start with blogging 10 years ago. It’s just the beginning. People in the room take this for granted, that anyone can put something on the web. That’s a big deal. It has changed institutions today and will continue to do it for decades.

Umair, does state control get in the way?

Ev, in some regions, yes. That’s why Twitter is pulling out of China. No, he didn’t say that. But he did say he wonders how long firewalls in China will hold up.

Umair telling a really long, long story about how he got customer support from a travel agent. Do we need more of this, I think he said.

Ev, yes. Understand people have limited amount of time and attention, so hope Twitter can help you focus. Have no interest in increasing your time on the Twitter site. In anything, we want  to decrease it (which is handy to say when you don’t measure well against Facebook that keeps growing, especially because ratings services don’t measure your impact through 3rd party apps well). We don’t expect everything we do to be profound. One principle is pay attention, for the company, pay attention to something that’s really compelling.

Umair loves his vacation example that we’re going back to it. Everyone wins. The only one who loses is the guy who advertised the bad hotel in the first place (and us from hearing it again).

Ev is more kind, saying Umair wrote something nice on how things will improve with more feedback. He’s now inviting Umair to explain more about his thin/thick value concept (I think).

Umair says his priciple of betterness is about creating thick value, things that help people. And Ev, you’re a Warrent Buffett fan and fan of value.

Ev. Yes. Wants to help do things in the world that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Saw that in Haiti, donate by text message, didn’t originate with Twitter, but message really spread that way State Dept told twitter. If you reduce friction, people are more likely to do things. The new @anywhere platform one of the ways to lower barriers.

Umair asks something I didn’t get. Ev is saying….

That’s not interesting if only look at way to get companies to get people to click on their links. That can be valuable. But if the channel helps the business get better, like companies getting feedback from Twitter, that can be powerful. Mentions Umair saying Walmart provides value. Now Ev is interviewing Umair.

Umair, Walmart had to go back and have a dialog with suppliers and stakeholderst to be more environmentally friendly. They didn’t use Twitter, but they had to create new links to understand what makes the world a better place.

Ev, if you live on the web, you’re used to working with the companies you use. In the real world, it’s a black box, and that creates a bad effect.

Umair, how about ambition. You’ve talked on this. in 140 characters what the goal is?

Ev: It comes down to fostering the open exchange of information, of being a force for good (i think he made it). Can you help others share and help others without being a burder. We believe ultimately that’s good. That’s our ambition.

Umair, Google’s organize information is differnet. Kind of backwards (I think he said). Now talking about his five priciples. So if you’re not hoarding data, what’s your advantage.

Ev: Our advantage will only come if everyone wins. One of our principles is that we only do win-win deals, Otherwise, it’s not sustainable. There’s lots we could do that’s low hanging fruit, but it’s not necessarily sustainable. If you’re closed, there’s always a reason to work around you. If you’re open, not so much.

Umair, is the internet helping media or starting it.

Ev, my answer in 10 years have alwasy been that it’s an ecosystem and those get richer if they work together. Sometimes species die off but only if they’re not adding value (or being hunted to extinction, heh). With Twitter, more to him that it complements existing media. At party last night people from CNN saying it’s helping them (or with Rich Sanchez, isn’t that all he does?).

Umair, what makes you tick (actually, he started out with a long intro about a post he did on the subject, but I saved you from that).

Ev: What drives me is creating things in the world that didn’t exist before. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if…” is something he tells developers to consider. I’ve always wanted to create business so we can create more things. The tangible results are great (IE money), but it’s the build more things thing.

Umair, are you smart or lucky (essentially what he meant to ask).

Ev, Mostly luck.

Umair, some long question.

Ev, What is awesomeness?

Umair, Kind of yes.

Ev, Biz tells a story of when we created Odeo (I misse Odeo) he tells story how he ripped carpet up from house he was building and dirty and hot and got tweet from Ev that he was sipping wine in Napa and he loved it. And we thought it was awesome. It took us a long time, almost a year until SXSW 2007, but we had the gut feeling there was something there.

Umair, back to his travel thing. how twitter helped make them. better.

Ev, helping other succeed is a priciple for coworkers and businesses. make things happen is another priciple. there’s also building trust. (expect Twitter to post its 9 core priciples in the near future — new Twitter corp communication guy, get on that!).

Umair, long question to say that we have to wrap-up. What’s your lessong to aspiring entrepeneurs.

Ev: Create something you want to exist in the world. Another is focus, they’re usually doing 5 things rather than 1. That’s OK, sometimes that’s the hedge. But it still means you should start with the one. If you assume you’re wrong about whatever assumptions you’re making starting out, you can always try the other one. The other thing would be to think bigger. It’s easy to do the incremental thing. With the internet, we’ve all been participating in this brainstorm for a decade to a decade in a half now. But lots on the same brainlength. But most interesting things sometimes come from outside Silicon Valley or those just thinking differently. Threadless, 37 Signals get shout outs as not being sucked into Silicon Valley thinking, See, now SV will want to invest more in those. Think Big, But Small.

And we’re done. See related news and live blogging from elsewhere via Techmeme. Also, don’t like to read? Check out this cool drawn-as-the-keynote happened visual representation of what was discussed, by Sunni Brown:

Ev Williams SXSW Keynote, In Pictures

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Top News | Twitter


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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