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Ev Williams: Twitter Will Actually Help Information Overload

Written on:September 2, 2010
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At its core, Twitter is a “recipient-driven medium,” said CEO Evan Williams in a public conversation tonight in San Francisco, Calif. What does that mean? Williams, an unusually theoretical CEO, is happy to explain. Given the opportunity, he will extemporize at a high level about the ideas that drive his company (which is now up to 145 million users). Williams contended that the medium of Twitter is (gasp!) actually well-suited to handle information overload.

Williams, speaking at a Girls in Tech event at Kicklabs, compared Twitter to email, where information overload can be incapacitating. “The problem with email is that it’s sender-driven, and sender-driven media doesn’t scale,” he said. On the one hand, the recipient hates email because “the sender is motivated to send as much stuff as possible because it’s free.” On the other hand, the sender may be dissatisfied because she’s not reaching the right audience for whom she may not even have email addresses.

Blogging (Williams was previously the founder of Blogger) and Tweeting are different (and better) than email, he said, because people who have something to say can find their audience. That’s a much better situation for both the publisher of the information and the consumer of it. So recipient-based media can scale better “in a world of infinite information,” he said.

That’s also a contrast to Google, said Williams, which serves more purpose-driven needs versus Twitter’s focus on “an interest-based world.”

“Google is very good at ‘I need to solve a problem, I need to buy something, I need an answer,” he said. “Twitter is more ‘I’m interested in many things, I don’t know what I need to know.’” Where Google is more likely to be gamed by a company like Demand Media, Twitter is a different beast.

However, there’s still the problem of filtering information on Twitter. “What we need to get much better at is scaling that system so you don’t have to pay attention to everything, but you don’t miss the stuff you care about,” Williams said. He said more such products were on the way.

Williams cited Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who said recently that more information is now produced in two days than was in all of time before 2003. Williams said automated streams of information from services like Fitbit and Blippy — ┬áin addition to the proliferation of media — will only add to that problem.

Williams also said to expect forthcoming products that would help filter relevant tweets around events, similar to what it’s doing with location. This would go beyond the user-developed convention of hashtags, he said, though he didn’t elaborate.

FitBit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

Related research from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Report: The Internet of Things: Anywhere, Anytime, Anything

Photo credit: James Duncan Davidson/O’Reilly Media, Inc.



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