Twitter CEO: ‘We’re Optimistic About Revenue’

Twitter CEO Evan Williams
Twitter CEO Evan Williams on-stage at the Web 2.0 Summit
Photo: David Needle

SAN FRANCISCO — The CEO of Twitter admitted it’s hard for even the company itself to get precise figures on its growth rate while conceding traffic in the U.S. has “probably” slowed and Web traffic is “not as robust as it was. But we’ll be launching some things that will pick that up,” said Evan Williams here during an onstage interview at the Web 2.0 Summit Tuesday evening.

Williams also addressed the question that seems to have a special fascination for the media and the Internet industry — Twitter’s plans to generate more revenue. The popular microblogging service has so far resisted selling ads on the site.

“It’s not like we’re spending our days looking in the couch cushions looking for revenue models,” said Williams, who insisted the company is more focused on stability, scalability and providing features users want.

“We’re spending 97 percent of our efforts in trying to build the product, and that’s not irrelevant to revenue. The irresponsible thing would be to take eye off that. Long-term value is on users and how valuable it will be to them.”

Still, Williams said Twitter is definitely weighing various potential revenue streams which he said would be a responsible course to assure investors and employees of the company’s future.

He said there may be some advertising system that makes sense, but no immediate plans to implement ads near term.

“More generally, the reason we like the prospects for Twitter is that there’s a lot of activity and a lot of brand marketers use Twitter and it works,” he said.

What about Facebook?

Williams confirmed rumors Twitter did have talks with Facebook earlier this year involving a possible merger, but ultimately decided it didn’t see the need for such a deal.

“We met with our friends in Palo Alto [where Facebook is based] and ultimately we didn’t see a reason to sell because it’s not the point,” Williams said. “The point is to see what we can build. We believe very strongly that Twitter is a good thing for the world and we see glimpses of that every day.”

He also said Twitter was an information network, not a social network and that he thought there was plenty of room for both Facebook and Twitter to thrive.

Williams quoted conference host and publisher Tim O’Reilly as saying, “Business is a context for doing interesting things,” and added, “the things we can do with Twitter blows my mind. It’s not about becoming part of a bigger company.”

Twitter has also seen its share of outages and glitches, though Web 2 Summit Program Chair John Battelle noted he hadn’t seen the “fail whale” very often lately.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work the past year where problems got fixed, but we’re not satisfied,” Williams said.

Overactive, spam-killing scripts

During a Q&A session, one show attendee complained that friends of his had had their Twitter-related services shut down without warning, leaving only a message that they had not complied with rules of the service for others to see. But the questioner, former computer magazine publisher and editor David Bunnell, complained that Twitter doesn’t make clear what the rules are.

Williams said the situation sounded “unfortunate” and noted the company had deployed some “overactive spam-killing scripts” and apologized in cases where “it was our screw-up.”

He agreed with Bunnell’s suggestion that there should be a warning before accounts are shut off (“I’ve suggested that myself,” he said) and that he was sure Twitter can do a better job making the rules clearer of what developers can and can’t do.

But Williams’s overall message on Twitter was positive and upbeat. He said the hottest growth area for the service right now is mobile. He also said he thinks a new service being tested called Lists will prove very popular. Lists is designed to help users better manage their accounts.

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