Media Interviews
In their own words

Jack Dorsey: Twitter Complements Traditional Media
The CEO of the hit microblogging service aims to take Twitter mainstream and find a business model. But Twitter won't ever replace newspapers, he says. "We will always need a medium that carries more words."

By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 09/15/08

Jack Dorsey is the co-founder and CEO of Twitter, the two-year-old free microblogging site that is racking up high-profile enthusiasts who hail it as both a "hypergrapevine" news resource and an innovative business tool for customer service. Among its heavy-hitter users: The New York Times, Huffington Post, Comcast, General Motors, YouTube, and U.S. presidential candidates.

The fast-growing communication service is said to have more than 2 million accounts set up for sending and receiving "tweets" -- quick-fire text messages that are limited to just 140 characters. The San Francisco-based Twitter has 24 employees and recently won $15 million in funding.

Dorsey, 31, is widely acknowledged as the man behind the Twitter concept. The St. Louis native and New York University computer-science dropout says he is excited about his site's rapid accent, the new Twitter show on CNN, and possible models for monetization -- as even newer communication upstarts nip at his heels.

I Want Media: Why has Twitter been embraced so quickly?

Jack Dorsey: It's the immediacy. Twitter is a very lightweight mechanism to push out information. And it doesn't require a lot of thought. It's very clean, simple and accessible. It gives you the capability to kind of report what's going on from anywhere right away. That's pretty powerful.

IWM: Who are some big-name Twitterers?

Dorsey: The biggest one at the moment is Barack Obama. His campaign has been very quick with new technologies. They adopted Twitter and started using it extensively very early on.

IWM: Is Barack Obama a bigger user of Twitter than John McCain?

Dorsey: The Obama campaign is using it very frequently. There are usually updates from Obama once if not twice a day -- pointers to speeches, positions on policies. We haven't seen as much from the McCain campaign. But I have a feeling that's going to change quite quickly and McCain will come up.

IWM: Do you see Twitter as a new form of media?

Dorsey: I see it as a new form of communication. On Twitter, you follow the updates from accounts that interest you. Maybe these accounts are people, or maybe they're companies, events or topics.

Twitter is focused around the question: "What are you doing?" And that can be interpreted in different ways. It's all about the context that the reader brings to the feed. Someone who doesn't know me will bring a different context to my updates than my mom.

IWM: Is Twitter superior to traditional blogging?

Dorsey: It depends on how you use it. I don't think it will ever replace blogging. I don't think it will ever replace newspapers. We will always need a medium that carries more words and explores a topic in a greater detail. We will always need more journalistic research. We will always need video and images. Twitter doesn't replace any of those things. But it complements them quite well.

IWM: Why limit the text messages to 140 characters?

Dorsey: I'm a big believer in constraint inspiring creativity. When you put boundaries around something you tend to get a lot more creative. We're not asking users to type out four paragraphs of text; we're asking them to take just a moment and write something -- whatever they want. Limiting yourself to 140 characters tends to make you focus in on a more off-the-cuff manner that naturally allows for directness.

IWM: How can Twitter benefit traditional journalists?

Dorsey: We've heard from a number of organizations -- even as old as Reuters -- that are building tools to monitor what's going on with Twitter to help conform what they need to focus on in terms of writing their articles.

Twitter provides a great man-on-the-street account of what's happening right now. The minute the Los Angeles earthquake struck [in July 2008] there was an update on Twitter, which was followed by thousands of more updates, until nine minutes later the first reports came out on the AP wire. Twitter is very good at immediacy.

IWM: CNN's new "Rick Sanchez Direct" is described as a Twitter show. Is it?

Dorsey: Rick Sanchez was using Twitter for Hurricane Gustav updates. Now he's shifting to the political arena. Twitter is good at supporting massively shared experiences like the U.S. election. I think CNN is going to be featuring a Twitter screenshot and will just watch the timeline go by live to point out what's happening in the world right now. It's very exciting.

IWM: How can Twitter benefit businesses?

Dorsey: Many companies -- Dell, Southwest Airlines, Virgin America -- are using Twitter as a promotional and marketing tool. What was surprising to us is how they are entering into conversations with consumers and using Twitter for customer service and market research.

JetBlue is tracking all mentions with the word "JetBlue" in updates and reaching out directly to people to respond to complaints or questions. And they're very fast about it. Such an activity makes the customer feel good about a product or brand.

IWM: You tweeted recently: "Taking two Advil." How would the reader know Advil didn't pay you to post that comment on your Twitter feed? What would prevent a high-trafficked Twitterer from accepting payments for product placements?

Dorsey: Sure, you could imagine a commercial entity sponsoring updates. I imagine that's going on right now. That is something the users of that system will come to terms with, whether that is O.K. or not. Twitter is fully opt-in but completely controlled by the recipients so you can easily turn that sort of stuff off.

In my case, I had a headache. Maybe I just didn't want to spell ibuprofen.

IWM: How will Twitter make money?

Dorsey: Twitter has potential for different monetization paths. We think the best one is something that emerges organically. We listen to how people use Twitter and establish patterns around that. By considering that we can make those patterns more convenient and potentially charge for those.

We have noticed that Twitter has a lot of commercial usage. That's very interesting to us. Twitter has a lot of people asking questions, which is also very interesting. Twitter also has a lot of people providing answers, some of which are commercially driven. So these are all things that we take into consideration.

But we don't want to force any particular model onto the user base until we feel comfortable doing that. We don't want to do it too soon -- and we definitely don't want to do it too late. But the time is not right now.

IWM: Is Twitter for sale?

Dorsey: We're really excited about Twitter's potential. We still have a lot of work to do. We're definitely open about things, but we're not really focused on that.

IWM: If Google or Rupert Murdoch came along and made a great offer, would you consider it?

Dorsey: Well, we have to consider everything, right? We just want to do the best thing for the product. And if the product is best served in another environment, then so be it. But we have to take things on a case-by-case basis. So there's no definitive answer to that question, because it's not black and white.

IWM: Some reports have valued Twitter at nearly $3 billion. Does that sound right?

Dorsey: I can't comment.

IWM: Twitter is just two years old. How will it be different in two years from now?

Dorsey: We're focusing on building up the technology as a utility, something that is so trustworthy that it becomes a natural mainstream activity.

In the future we'll have more and more ways to interact with this technology so that it becomes a much richer tool to immediately get a sense of what's happening right now -- what's happening in the world, what's happening in your city, what's happening in your workplace, what's happening in your family. Something like that hasn't really been seen before. And that's what's really exciting for us.

IWM: A recent report says that you hired a CEO coach and got rid of your nose ring. True?

Dorsey: [laughter] I've seen a CEO coach since we started the company, and I have gotten rid of my nose thing. Not during that time, but just before we went up for money, actually. It really had nothing to do with the company at all. I had the nose ring for about seven years and I just decided it was time to stop it. I took it out and there was nothing, you know?

IWM: You should have kept it. It's like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his flip-flops.

Dorsey: I don't think he wears those anymore.

IWM: Well, there you have it.




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