Web 2.0 Summit: Evan Williams

I’d expected Sequoia’s inimitable Mike Moritz and Microsoft’s energetic Steve Balmer to be my favorite speakers of the Web 2.0 Summit and they did not disappoint. Moritz provided a fascinating, cerebral discussion yesterday afternoon and Balmer rocked the house this morning: see this CNN story on Balmer’s speech with this great quote regarding Live vs. Google:

“You’re just 3 years old, and we’ve got you in there playing basketball with a 12-year-old,” Ballmer gushed and gesticulated, nearly popping out of his seat. “You’re growing up quick and getting better every day, and you’ve got all the potential in world, and it may take you ’til you’re 7, 8, 9 or 10, but you’re gonna dunk and you’re gonna dunk on the other guy some day, Johnny.”

But the surprise for me thus far has been Evan Williams of Twitter who, in a very brief presentation, had quite a bit to say on the merits of definition by removal and focus, instead of addition.

  • I want to discuss learning by the aggressive application of constraints
  • Our decision to use SMS as a messaging vehicle in Twitter meant that we had to support short (140 character) format-less messages. This was a huge constraint.
  • We didn’t define Twitter as Blogger less comments, tags, template editors, titles, etc. But it is an interesting way to look at it. (We defined it as a ubiquitous friend status network.)
  • What else can we define by taking away?
  • In my prior life at Blogger, I spent most of my time trying to add things.
  • What would happen if you had Flickr without tags and with a one photo/day limit? You’d get higher quality photos and more and better comments on them … and you’d be Fotolog which recently sold for $90M.
  • What would happen if you had Blogger without titles, tags, comments, and a 140-character limit? You’d get Twitter.
  • What would happen if you had Yahoo! without the home page and just a blank screen, with a search box? You’d get Google.
  • What would happen if you had MySpace but you could only use it if you were in college? You’d get Facebook.

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