Evan Williams, founder and CEO of Twitter, kicked off the Online News Association conference in San Francisco.
The format was a fireside chat, except before an audience of hundreds of journalists, academics and developers.
He starts by talking about how Twitter has taken off across the world, with major growth for Twitter in the UK, Brazil and Canada. It is also big in Japan, so Japanese is the only other language that English that is currently supported.
The upsurge of messages from Mumbai and Iran was surprising, says Williams. But it hardly surprising that when people write about the world around them, there will be news.
“These little bits of information” are complementary to what journalists do.
Twitter is working on relevancy and heping people find what is more relevant to them, says Williams, but sees a role for journalists in helping audiences sifting the signal from the noise.
He talks about journalists’ role as curating the messages on Twitter, with the Huffington Post being a leader in this area.
But Williams also says the company wants to build more trust and authenticity into Twitter. The company is working on reputation systems, though this is still at its nascent phase.
‘Plant seeds in fertile ground’
Williams talked about a new feature due to launch in a couple of weeks that would allow anyone to curate a list of Twitter accounts and presents as a public timeline. The list feature will be available through APIs and widgets.
He sees a role for journalists in curating and editing this public timeline, much like journalists edit copy.
Talking about the future, Williams says: “We feel we have only scratched the surface of what it can do for people.”
But he doesn’t go into specifics about future developments but frames it as making Twitter more useful to people.
“I’m not announcing any features”, says Williams, when asked about the ability to send messages to specific groups of people.
Twitter employs 80 people, but that is not enough people to do what we want to do and team is very stretched, says Williams. To build a business around this would require another similar size team.
The priority for now, says Williams, is to develop and improve the product.
“I’ve started half a dozen internet companies since 1994,” says Williams. “The effect on me is to want to do something really, really big.”
But he didn’t start Twitter was going to be something really big, rather “we stumbled into it”. His aim now is to realise this potential.
As for his advice to budding entrepreneurs, we don’t “assume we don’t know what is going to happen.” The approach with Twitter is to plant seeds in fertile ground and the users “have taught us what Twitter should be.”
“We won’t strictly adhere to majority rule,” he adds.
Williams says that he follows his gut. “We felt something with Twitter that we didn’t feel with Odeo,” the podcasting start-up that spawned Twitter.