Evan Williams: What We’ve Learned Running Twitter

As most product managers will attest, the temptation is always great to add new features when building a product. Evan Williams, Twitter’s founder, did a short presentation yesterday afternoon at the Web 2.0 Summit to talk about how we can build better products by removing features instead.

Web2Summit Evan Williams Twitter

Knowing that Williams created Blogger at Pyra Labs, he defines Twitter as a blogging application with a maximum of 140 characters and no formatting. But he says that Twitter does not compete with current blogging applications as it offers a different experience. They originally built their technology to use with an already existing ubiquitous friend status network: the SMS, and SMS basically come with a command line.

They quickly realized that the majority of people went directly to the Twitter web site, many of them using 3rd party apps built on their API. They now have hundreds of applications today because “text integrates well with everything”.

He offered additional examples of sites or technologies that kept things simple (or that should keep things simple):

  • YouTube has a 10-minute limit for uploaded videos. This definitely had a beneficial impact on the service as it created addictive, ready-for-the-web content.
  • Podcasts would certainly benefit from a time limit to become a more successful phenomenon.
  • What about a social network that limits you to 10 friends?
  • What about a dating site with only a picture and a yes/no button? (Hot or Not)
  • What about an e-mail tool where you can only have 20 messages in your inbox?
  • What about a competitor of MySpace where only college students are admitted? (Facebook)
  • What about a competitor of Yahoo with only a search box on white page? (Google)