Christian Long

Evan Williams: Listening to Twitter Users

In TED Talks on April 10, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Reflection by SUSIE C.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Evan Williams:  Listening to Twitter Users


Some people hate it, and others can’t live without it. Either way, this social networking site has an impressive 75 million members (as of the taping of this TED Talk).

And to think, it only started as a side project!

Evan Williams, a founding member of Twitter, admits that Twitter was started on just a “hunch” when his co-worker Jack Dorsey suggested an idea based around sending simple status updates to friends. Evan liked this idea and founded Twitter as a “side project”.

Twitter wasn’t Evan’s first little side project. He had also started Blogger as a side project, and now Blogger has grown so popular that when you right click on a web page one of the icons that shows up is the Blogger logo.  Twitter has also grown out of its original side project status and has expanded and evolved in ways that its creators had not foreseen.

Twitter was created to help people feel more connected, and it most certainly has succeeded. However, its users have not only adapted to this tool of social networking, they have also adapted it to fit their needs.

One of the first things users developed was a way to address a single person. They would add @username to specify their tweets, something that Twitter’s creator had never thought of. This was just the beginning of Twitter’s evolution.

Twitter began to be used for fundraising, to promote businesses, to follow politics, and even to bring the latest news. The first time Twitter was used large scale to bring up to date news was during the California wildfires in October 2007. The L.A. Times, the L.A. Fire Department, and the Red Cross all used Twitter to distribute news and updates. Today many businesses and organizations tweet (even my school!), but this only happened after they adapted this “family and friends” social network to fit their needs as well as those of individuals.

One of the biggest adaptations of twitter to its users and their needs was during the gas shortage in Atlanta in 2008. Users would tweet places where they had found low gas prices with the phrase “#atlgas” tagged on to the end. This allowed other tweeters to search that phrase in a third-party Twitter search engine and find the gas for themselves.

However, at the end of this TED talk I do not believe that the adaptability of Twitter and all of its many applications is the point, but rather the creativity and originality of people to think of and implement these changes to make the end result better.


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