In 2006, Jack Dorsey created Twitter so that he could let friends and family know what he was doing, wherever he–or they–might be. Today more than two million people use it to send out 140-character-or-fewer updates, called “tweets,” through Twitter’s website or by text message over mobile devices. Dorsey’s ethos of simplicity shapes everything about Twitter, from the application itself to the company’s San Francisco offices (see “Home Tweet Home,” July/August 2008). Twitter’s popularity has given rise to an entire ecosystem of applications. Yet Dorsey, cofounder and now CEO of the bemusing microblogging service, is secretive about how Twitter will ever make money; critics say that’s because its executives have no idea. What’s not a secret is that Twitter has had difficulties supporting its growing band of obsessives: in recent months, twitterers have been frequently confronted by error screens bearing messages such as “Twitter is stressing out a bit right now.”
Jason Pontin, TR’s editor in chief, recently chatted with Dorsey about these and other issues using Twitter’s @reply function, which directs a public message to a particular user.
jason_pontin @jack Explain Twitter.
jack @jason_pontin Twitter is a real-time repository of state for people, events, & things. A personal news wire of sorts.
jason_pontin @jack I twitter every day. But whenever I explain it to people who’ve not, they are uncomprehending or angry. Why?
jack @jason_pontin People have to discover value for themselves. Especially w/ something as simple & subtle as Twitter. It’s what you make of it.
jason_pontin @jack Critics say that tweets are trivial. Is that missing the point?
jack @jason_pontin It depends on the context the recipient brings. There’s a universe in the smallest, most “trivial” details of one’s life.
jason_pontin @jack Even people who love Twitter are frustrated by the service. It’s broken far too often to feel reliable.
jack @jason_pontin We love what we’re building & we hate to see it suffer. Our goal is to make it reliable enough to be trusted as a public good.
jason_pontin @jack Twitter also seems to lack basic stuff. I can’t organize my followers intelligently. Or search very well. When will Twitter grow up?
jack @jason_pontin Unfortunately, we’ve neglected the user experience to focus on stability of the foundation. We have designs to put this right.
jason_pontin @jack You recently got $15 million from Spark Capital and Bezos Expeditions. Will you buy some servers and infrastructure with that?
jack @jason_pontin I can’t confirm the number, but I can confirm we’ll make the money work for our users (20 of whom happen to be our investors)!
jason_pontin @jack What’s Twitter’s business model?
jack @jason_pontin We’re building what we love. While we have many ideas for sustainable revenue, Twitter’s will emerge naturally from our work.
jason_pontin @jack Sometimes it sounds like your monetization plan is: let’s get acquired by a communications company.
jack @jason_pontin We’re not focused on answering that question. We’re determined to build a solid platform and service we can take all the way.