Twitter CEO Evan Williams sat down to talk with John Battelle at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. (See all of our coverage here.)
Battelle, whose Federated Media provides Twitter with some of its meager revenues via ad deals, asked Williams several times about his company’s plans to make money.
Williams’ basic answer: We think there will be plenty of ways for Twitter to make money, ranging from advertising to pro services for corporate users. But it’s focusing “97%” of its efforts today on improving the product, which he thinks will make it a much stronger revenue generator in the future.
Williams also fielded questions about his non-deal with Facebook — he does not regret not selling, unsurprisingly — and Twitter’s slowing growth. Williams admitted that the company has seen traffic growth slow to its Web site, but international and mobile growth is strong.
LIVE notes follow. Direct quotes in quotation marks; all else paraphrased.
Ev shows up on a goofy old video from the 90s talking about the Internet.
So what’s Twitter’s revenue model? We’re spending 97% of our efforts trying to improve the product. That’s not unrelated to revenue. But… the irresponsible thing would be to take eyes of product now and focus on revenue, when ultimately, they go hand-in-hand. Long-term value will be in how good the product is and how many users it has. That answer your question? No, says Battelle! “What’s your revenue model?” Laughs from the crowd.
Text links in Twitter search? AdWords and AdSense like stuff? “TweetWords and TweetSense?” “I like where you’re going… it never really occurred to us…” Williams jokes. Laughs.
Mobile SMS has been a revenue source. Large number of brands who want to work with you. Call and ask how they get some Twitter in their marketing. “We tell them to call you.” (FM and Twitter work together.)
You might need a sales force though, right? Ev: Yes, not first though. I can tell you why we’re optimistic about revenue. I can’t tell you exactly what the model is yet. There may be some advertising in the mix.
Are you considering some sort of business services to give data you have?
I find that interesting. The way we would approach that is, we have a class of users who are trying to do different things. If we can help some users with tools, we think they’ll spend money on it, will use Twitter as more a part of their business. So there’s definitely a path there, including data, but like everything else we do, we’ll approach that as a platform, too.
JB: Twitter’s growth has been extraordinary but has plateaued. Why don’t you comment on that. Is Twitter dead?
EW: We are seeing slowing of growth in some areas and accelerating of growth in other areas. Twitter is hard to measure. Seeing huge growth on mobile and internationally. Also our API hard to measure. Probably our US Twitter.com growth has slowed temporarily, will launch things we think will pick that up. But not shocker that Web traffic growth has slowed.
JB: Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking I should have taken the cash from Facebook?
EW: No. I never have. … No need to be part of a bigger company.
JB: Facebook has added a lot of features that feel… Twitterrific. Flattery? Zeitgeist thing? Coincidence after you turned down deal? Do you fear them?
EW: I don’t know how feature prioritization happens there. For their size, they’re very agile changing the product. We don’t spend our days figuring out which way they’re going to change it. We don’t use it to base our product decisions now. Facebook was there when we started. There’s room for both of us. I don’t think it’ll mean the end of Twitter.
JB: What do you think about Google Wave?
EW: I think Google Wave is awesome. If I wasn’t working at Twitter I’d probably be trying to reinvent email. I sure as hell don’t know what it’s going to be. I haven’t wrapped my head around it yet, but we’ll see. Already a way to tweet from Wave, so that seems great.
JB: MySpace and AOL have announced sync with Twitter. But one-way dialog with Facebook. Is that going to be fixed any time soon?
EW: I don’t know. That’s kind of on their side. It’s highly possible that people have been talking about that. Not me personally. I don’t even know if that’s the right thing. I don’t think everything syncing with everything else is necessarily the right user experience. Different services provide different features, even if they look similar.
Question of sustainability. Is there a business model in terms of third party ecosystem. Some very large devs holding back building out extensions because they don’t know how to participate with Twitter in a revenue model. Yeah, we need to get a lot better with developers on that. Assurance that they can develop for our platform. Working on TOS for API.
JB: Concerned about scale?
EW: Yes, but not as much as I used to be. Core problems got fixed in the last year. Scalability isn’t the big problem. We can add hardware and have money to do so. Still a few pieces that need to get fixed. Reliability is something we’re still working on, and will be working on for a while. Balance with new features, user experience. Getting a lot better.
Indonesia has been growing like crazy lately. US, UK, Brazil, Japan also huge.
Concerned against no-Twitter clauses for actors? Not on my top list of prorities.
Tools for the media? Putting a ton of effort into search and discovery. Just scratching the surface. Need to get more intelligent about real-time search.
JB: How are search deals with Google and Microsoft going?
EW: Whose search deals? If you know any good search engineers, send them our way. Specific tools for media and journalists is a good place for third-party devs to work on.
Time to retire the Suggested Users List? Yes. We thought we’d do this easy thing now, and it’s gone on too long and I desperately want to kill it or evolve it. Hopefully when we get lists rolled out, we’ll be able to replace with something more Twitter-y and democratic.
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