Results tagged “evwilliams”
April 21, 2010
Last week, Twitter announced its new advertising system, called promoted tweets. I was at Twitter's Chirp conference as a speaker, so I got an up-close look at the reaction to the big news, along with the (frankly, more interesting to me) announcements for developers and media.
But from the New York Times to CNBC to the dozens of other media channels that covered the story, there was no mention of the essential fact that Twitter's senior executives have all made similar advertising and monetization systems in the past.
Why does it matter? Because looking at the decisions Ev, Dick, Biz and other senior Twitter execs have made in the past could provide valuable insights to anyone trying to understand the roadmap of how the company got to this point, and what they're going to do next. And because innovation happens in the tech business not because of who you know or how much money you have (though those things help, of course) but because, fundamentally, you know your shit. The tech trade press wants to focus on personalities and funding, but for the developers I met at Chirp, or who are making their way to Facebook's F8 conference today, success comes from recognizing industry patterns.
So, some examples:
- PyRads, launched in November 2001, was a self-service text ad system built by Pyra CEO Ev Williams, now Twitter's CEO, to provide an advertising system for users of Pyra's signature application, Blogger. (Trivia: PyRads was named by Jason Shellen, now CEO of Brizzly.) PyRads actually launched between Google's rollout of AdWords and its later introduction of AdSense, alongside similar efforts like Matt Haughey's TextAds and Phil Kaplan's HttpAds.
- SpyOnIt, launched in 1999, was led by its CEO Dick Costolo, now COO of Twitter, as a realtime notification system for changes on websites. In addition to sending instant messages when a site had updated, the SpyOnIt team stayed at 724 solutions after it acquired their company, with one area of focus being the delivery of realtime notifications through partnerships with mobile service providers. Dick and his SpyOnIt cofounders would later go on to create Feedburner. You know, that thing that does realtime delivery of feeds with ads in them?
- A bonus one: Xanga, launched in 1999, was one of the earliest large-scale blogging services, and its initial marketing efforts were led by Biz Stone, now Creative Director of Twitter. While Biz was at Xanga, they launched one of the first pages to aggregate media consumption in a blogging community, creating an Amazon shopping portal of the most popular books, music and movies amongst their users.
There are dozens more examples, but if you are going to compete or succeed in the Twitter ecosystem, shouldn't you know exactly what choices these men made when in nearly identical circumstances a decade ago? Because I'm friends with these guys, I can just ask them. But none of the developers I've talked to at events like Chirp seem to know this legacy, and they don't have the access and privilege that I do to ask questions directly. That's not really a criticism — a lot of them are young or inexperienced or simply arrogant and don't think history matters, so they are disinclined to listen to an old-timer like me rant about ancient times when they were in junior high school.
And while the brashness of youth can be a powerful driver of innovation, a blind devotion to the narratives as presented by today's tech press is incomplete at best. Without the whole story, today's startups are going to be sitting around surprised when industry cycles repeat themselves. It doesn't have to be that way. All you have to do is Know Your Shit.
Don't worry, I'm not 100% Grumpy Old Man yet; Here's video of me improvising a PowerPoint presentation to slides I'd never seen at the close of the first day of the Chirp conference. Caution: The jokes are nerdy.
Update: The video works now.
July 16, 2008
Sometimes if you do something very difficult, and you do it really well, the end result is that your achievement becomes completely invisible.
I mentioned a year and a half ago that I like Twitter. That was a little bit less common a position to take back then, but in the months since, tons of people have taken to the little messaging service, so clearly this was no great insight on my part -- it's just a useful, fun service.
But of course, that popularity has not been without its problems. Twitter's gotten a reputation for being unreliable, as a result of its rapid growth. In fact, in many ways, the Fail Whale and its related frustrations has come to define Twitter's brand more than almost anything else.
I'm no expert at these things, but there are a lot of reasons startups fail, and the reasons almost never include the fact that thousands of users clamoring for a service. Indeed, it seems to me that most companies (whether they're tech startups or anything else) fail because of being poorly managed. Put another way, execution is everything.
With that in mind, it's worth pointing out how particularly well-executed Twitter's recent acquisition of Summize has been. I don't know any of the deals of the financial or business arrangements, except that I'm a little disappointed that Twitter isn't maintaining a presence in New York City, instead moving all of the employees to San Francisco. That nitpick aside, the public face of this transition was extremely well executed.
Ev Williams, co-founder and the most public face of Twitter, speaks about the deal at some length in this excellent, candid interview with Techcrunch. (Which site, by the way, may rank as my "most improved" blog of 2008.)
Rumors of the Summize acquisition leaked a few weeks ago, but both companies kept discipline around communications and didn't acknowledge or respond to the conversation. And then, when it came time to announce the deal, the sites had been fully integrated, a lengthy and personable blog post complete with a sketch of some future ideas for integration was posted, consistent branding was in place on the acquired site, and the roadmap for what was going on with employees affected by the acquisition was clearly communicated.
In all, that's a formidable amount of coordination to happen across the country, while business deals are being worked out, and while maintaining secrecy about the fact that it's taking place. And, all of that was done with an eye towards providing a good user experience to their shared customer base.
There are a lot of things to criticize in such deals most of the time, though it seems likely that this will be a successful acquisition, from an outsider's point of view. But what's striking to me is that, as quick as so many are to criticize Twitter (fairly) for technological problems, people haven't been as eager to acknowledge a remarkable discipline and execution on the business side of the company. Frankly, all of those who'd suggested that Twitter should be sold to a larger company seem to have forgotten that almost none of the big companies suggested as acquirers have a history of consistently pulling off this kind of execution. And that's even more true for the smaller innovative companies that they've acquired.
February 20, 2007
One of the goals a lot of people have when they become entrepreneurs is to have "fuck you" money: Enough personal wealth to be able to say "fuck you" to whomever you want.
As is probably evident from my little love note to Twitter, I'm enjoying Ev Williams (and his team) having the freedom to experiment with a slightly nicer version of that freedom. Call it "Thank You" money.
The best part about people being independent is that they can tell the truth. And while this is true for other bloggers (Dave Winer, Jason Calacanis, and Mark Cuban come to mind), Ev's probably the most graceful with it. So a rumination a few months ago about Odeo's mistakes sets the stage for an honest appraisal of the challenges faced now that Odeo is for sale.
Pretty much everybody else who'd want to do something like this would have to ask permission from someone else, permission that would likely not be granted. As someone who likes entrepreneurship and working for an independent company, it does my heart good to see others revelling in it as well.