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What Jack Dorsey Wants from Technology

At our event in San Francisco the Twitter inventor explains his guidelines for creating good technology.
September 4, 2012

There’s no evidence that the world really needs a new Steve Jobs, but Jack Dorsey often gets described as the best person for the role. He invented and today leads product development at Twitter, and is founder and CEO of fast-growing payments company Square. Whether you think he’s a match for Jobs or not, Dorsey certainly has a distinctive style in talking about and creating technology. Here’s a summary of his approach in his own words, from an onstage interview with Jason Pontin, our editor-in-chief at an MIT Technology Review event in San Francisco last week:

  • Good technology becomes invisible.

“I think about new technologies in terms of utilities. The electric outlets in every room are something we don’t realize until it’s pointed out or [the power] goes down. I can plug in an electric guitar, vacuum, I can make my own product. The really great designs fade away in that sense.”

  • It has to be big, and small.

“Twitter was designed to be used by a 5 dollar cell phone in the middle of Kenya, all the way up to the largest organizations in the world such as governments. A 5 dollar phone in Kenya has the exact same tool that Lady Gaga does. We want to build at scale, but with a very large dynamic range. Square gives a sole trader a better tool in many ways than a multibillion dollar retailer. Starbucks [which recently signed up to use Square in its coffee shops] has validated that the other end of that scale is also true.”

  • Sometimes you have to force your view on the world. Dorsey seemed to echo Steve Jobs famous unwavering commitment to his own vision for the world when asked about criticism of Twitter’s recent strategy, as it pursues ad revenues. Recent moves to prevent other sites and software from accessing users’ Tweets have led some in the tech community to accuse Dorsey of leading the company away from a commitment to openness that made the network succeed in the first place (See “A Social Network Free of Ads”). Dorsey was having none of it:

“We want to make sure that we’re shepherding the ecosystem and that we’re guiding it towards very compelling versions of what we’re working towards. We see the products as a story, we want to tell an epic story to the world, it’s one that has episodes, that has acts. Both companies are very early in their stories.”

Users’ voices are listened to, said Dorsey, but concessions and changes have to be made as an idea, company and technology scales up. He may seem a much less abrasive personality than Jobs, but Dorsey seems equally committed to honoring his own vision for his technologies, regardless of what others think.

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