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A newsworthy conversation with Twitter’s Biz Stone?

November 26, 2010

SOCIAL-MEDIA/

Earlier this week, I sat down with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone on the sidelines of the Silicon Valley comes to Oxford event to conduct an interview for Reuters TV. Our interview ran for about 20 minutes and touched on a range of topics including fellow co-founder Evan Williams’ recent decision to step down as CEO and make way for former COO Dick Costolo, promoted tweets and the possibility of Twitter creating a news network through tweets.

I judged the latter topic to be the most newsworthy, and contacted a colleague of mine who wrote a text story based on my interview.  My video story went out the following day.

Some questions have been raised about the merits of these stories so I thought it would be useful to provide further background so that people could judge for themselves whether my question to Stone was fair and relevant, and whether I weighted his responses appropriately.

Prior to our interview, I had been given the impression that Twitter was working to bolster its function as a provider of targeted news by comments Stone made during the Q&A portion of his masterclass session.   He said “What we want to try to figure out is essentially, with all of this information coming at us every day and all these people who want to find out what’s happening in the world, how do we get the right tweets to the right people at the right time, so their lives are more informed and they can make better decisions and have better lives. A lot of the work that the science teams and analytics teams are doing is around that area of what does relevance mean for Twitter and how can we deliver the right information to the right people at the right time. A real world example of that might be – you drive home to Berkeley every day over the Bay Bridge, you don’t follow the Bay Bridge’s official Twitter account, but the Bay Bridge has just fallen down and you’re on your way towards it. You might want a Tweet that says ‘Bay Bridge fell down, take another bridge, or take a boat, or stay at work today, or something.’ So we want to try to use the mining of that sort of data to try to come up with better ways to save our universe, essentially.”

The potential for Twitter to play a more active role in deciding what information to communicate to whom seemed to suggest a further move into a realm typically occupied by traditional news organizations.  Later, during our interview I asked him about this directly.  Here’s the relevant portion of the interview:

IT SOUNDED TO ME LIKE YOU ARE GOING TO CREATE A NEWS NETWORK THROUGH TWEETS.  IS SOMETHING LIKE THAT POSSIBLE?

“I think so.  From the very beginning this has seemed almost as if it’s a news wire coming from everywhere around the world. I mean we have 95 million tweets coming in every day from people about what they’re seeing around them.  If you type the word accident into Twitter, you will just be amazed on how many people are reporting on accidents in their neighbourhoods, in their areas.  It doesn’t always have to be bad news of course but we have 375 thousand people registering for accounts every day. We have over 175 million registered accounts and these people are all just sharing what they’re seeing and what’s going on around them so we’re becoming an information network for people what’s happening in their world right now and what’s important to them.  And so yeah, I’ve always thought of it as almost like a news wire from people but I see it as complementary to journalism because it’s only part of the story. We can break news very quickly obviously on Twitter.  You can find out that there’s an earthquake happening in China while the ground is still shaking but you still need journalism and storytellers to explain what that means in context with the other two earthquakes that just happened, or what are the geo-economic impacts of that, et cetera.”

WHAT IS IT THAT TWITTER WOULD DO THAT IS NOT ALREADY BEING DONE BY THE A.P., REUTERS AND OTHER NEWSWIRES?

“One thing that’s unusual is we’re giving our data away.  More than 95 per cent of tweets are public.  People know that they are public.  They intentionally tweet with the intent of them going public.  The Library of Congress in the United States is now archiving all the public tweets for history.  We share what we call our firehose, which is every tweet that comes in every second of every day, we share that with Google, Bing, Yahoo and many other companies. I think what we could do is continue to partner like that, especially with news organizations to try to get news, breaking news quicker into the hands of the experts.  And give them a conduit that allows them to get into touch with people who are on the ground who are experiencing these events that the reporters want to report on so what we can do that’s different from a lot of companies before us is share this data and open this data up and that’s what we have a history doing is being very open and that fits our goal – the idea that an open exchange of information can have a positive global impact is something we’re driven by.”

WHAT WOULD SOMETHING LIKE A TWITTER NEWS NETWORK LOOK LIKE?  WOULD THE PLATFORM ITSELF EVOLVE INTO THAT?  WOULD IT BE AN ADDENDUM?

“I think a Twitter news network would not necessarily be run by Twitter, but would be in partnership with several news networks, all of them getting access to our data and doing different things with it specializing in different ways.  One news network might only want news out of Japan.  Another might only want what links are people passing around today and so what we’re able to do now, we’re able to license our feed – either the whole feed to giant companies like Google who have the engineering power to be able to digest the whole thing or slivers of our feed that are specialized and more meaningful to different companies so I think a Twitter news service would be something that would be very open and shared with many different news organizations around the world.”

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