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Twitter CEO: 'Irresponsible' to focus on business plan now

Evan Williams tells Web 2.0 summit that Twitter still needs to focus on the tech

October 21, 2009 07:03 AM ET

Computerworld - Twitter's CEO just wasn't going to bite.

Evan Williams avoided outlining any details about a highly anticipated Twitter business plan during an opening-day keynote session late yesterday at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

During an on-stage conversation with moderator and Federated Media founder John Battelle, Williams also said just a little about potential competitor Google Wave, whether he regrets not selling out to Facebook and how the social networking firm is dealing with scalability issues.

"It's not like we're spending our days looking under the couch cushions for the elusive revenue model," said Williams. "You don't raise as much money as we did without a plan. You have to tell investors what business you're looking to build. We're trying now to improve our product and technology. We have to deliver to people the best and freshest and most relevant information as possible. The irresponsible thing to do would be to take our eye off that and focus on revenue."

Williams added that he's optimistic about Twitter's potential for generating revenue. He repeated earlier statements that Twitter is not ruling out running advertising on the site, even though Twitter co-founder Biz Stone had said repeatedly in the past that they wouldn't turn to advertising.

"I can't tell you exactly what the model is, but there is some way where advertising makes sense for Twitter," he noted. "We like the prospects for Twitter because there is a lot of brand marketing on Twitter today. It's not a social network. It's an information network that tells people what's happening in different places in the world. Businesses of all kinds realize that if they can get people following them on Twitter or get their messages seen on Twitter ... it'll drive foot traffic. If we're driving that kind of value for businesses, I'm not worried about extracting some business for ourselves."

Turning his attention to Twitter's social networking rivals, Battelle asked Williams if he ever wakes up in a cold sweat over declining to sell the firm to Facebook in the fall of 2008.

"No, I haven't. No," said Williams. "The goal has never been, Can we exit? Can we get a good payoff for the founders and investors? The number of amazing things we can do with Twitter just blows my mind. It doesn't get more amazing by making it part of a bigger company."

And in the arena of social networking rivals, Williams said he has tried out Google's new collaboration and communications tool, Google Wave.

Google's Web-based application is designed to consolidate features from e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, wikis, multimedia management and document sharing, while offering a variety of social networking features. Analysts call Google Wave the latest, and possibly the most comprehensive, entrant into a burgeoning social networking business.

"I think Google Wave is awesome," said Williams. "I haven't wrapped my head around it yet. From what I've seen so far, there's already a way to tweet from Wave, so that's great."

Williams also said he is seeing improvement in Twitter's reliability and scalability.

"Our charts show it's getting a lot better. I'm not as concerned as I used to be, but I'm not satisfied with where we are. There are a few pieces that we still have to fix, and we have engineering plans for them."

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