Evan Williams on what's behind Twitter's explosive growth | Summary and Q&A

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Evan Williams on what's behind Twitter's explosive growth


Twitter started as a simple platform for sharing updates, but has evolved into a powerful tool for real-time communication and community building.

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Key Insights

  • 🌱 Twitter was initially launched as a side project at a startup company, but its unexpected success led to it becoming a major platform that took over the company and the CEO's life for many years.
  • 📱 Twitter's primary use is for people to share moments of their lives in real-time, allowing them to feel more connected despite distance.
  • 🔥 During real-time events like the San Diego wildfires, Twitter became a vital tool for reporting and finding information, with even major news outlets and organizations utilizing the platform.
  • 💼 Twitter has evolved beyond personal use and has found many uses in businesses, marketing, and communication, including the promotion of a popular Korean-barbecue taco truck.
  • 🗳️ Politicians, including members of Congress, have started using Twitter as a way to communicate with their constituents and share updates.
  • 💬 Users have shaped the evolution of Twitter, inventing features like the "@" reply syntax and utilizing the API to create various third-party applications.
  • 🔍 Twitter's search engine, acquired from a company called Summize, enabled users to find information about any topic or event in real-time, changing how the platform was perceived and used.
  • 🌍 Twitter has been used for charitable purposes, with users raising thousands of dollars in a matter of days for causes like helping homeless people or digging wells in Africa.


Four years ago, on the TED stage, I announced a company I was working with at the time called Odeo. And because of that announcement, we got a big article in The New York Times, which led to more press, which led to more attention, and me deciding to become CEO of that company -- whereas I was just an adviser -- and raising a round of venture capit... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did the San Diego wildfires demonstrate the value of Twitter as a communication tool during real-time events?

During the San Diego wildfires, Twitter became a vital source of information for both individuals and organizations, with people turning to the platform to report on the situation and find updates from neighbors. The Los Angeles Times, L.A. Fire Department, and Red Cross also utilized Twitter to share news and updates, highlighting its potential during crises.

Q: How have users shaped the evolution of Twitter?

Users played a significant role in shaping Twitter's development. They invented the "@" reply syntax to respond to specific messages or individuals, which later became an official feature. Users also utilized the platform's API to create various software interfaces, ranging from devices that let an unborn baby or a plant "tweet" to applications like Summize, which introduced Twitter search capabilities.

Q: What unexpected uses have emerged on Twitter?

Twitter's simple concept of sharing updates has led to many unexpected uses. Businesses have utilized it for marketing and communications purposes, while a popular Korean-barbecue taco truck in Los Angeles uses Twitter to inform customers about its location. Politicians, including members of Congress, have also started using Twitter to engage with constituents. Additionally, people have used Twitter to raise funds for charitable causes, showcasing the platform's potential for community support.

Q: How has Twitter's acquisition of Summize impacted the platform?

Twitter's acquisition of Summize, a Twitter search engine, allowed users to discover conversations and information about specific topics or events in real-time. This expanded the way users could interact with Twitter and introduced new use cases for the platform. For example, during a gas shortage in Atlanta, users would tweet about finding gas and include the keyword "#atlgas," enabling others to search and find gas themselves.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Twitter was created as a side project and initially focused on sharing simple status updates in 140 characters or less.

  • The platform's real-time nature became evident during events like the San Diego wildfires, where people turned to Twitter for information and updates.

  • Twitter's users have shaped the platform through features like reply syntax and third-party development, expanding its use beyond personal updates to collaboration and support.

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