Twitter: we want you to spend less time on Twitter

Evan Williams at SXSWi
Evan Williams: "We have no interest in just increasing the time you spend on the Twitter site"

While Twitter started out as a quick and easy way to send short text messages, it has since evolved in ways its developers never expected, and is now used to get information out from disaster areas, during protests and by politicians during election campaigns.

At SXSWi 2010 Twitter CEO Evan Williams gave his vision of what Twitter is evolving to become.

"'What is Twitter?' has always been an ironically difficult question to answer," says Williams. "We think of Twitter as an information network. It's often called a social network, but we think of it differently as an information network that helps people discover what's going on in the world that they care about as well as share what's happening with them."

That you can take advantage of Twitter without having to share what's happening in your life is key, reckons Williams. "You can follow the Flaming Lips, if that's what you care about, and you can be smart at work, make better choices – that's value.

"But the funny thing about being an information network is that it's kind of like saying 'what is the internet?' – it's an information network. 'What's it for?' – it's kind of hard to narrow that down, because it depends on who you are and what you need at the time. And that's like Twitter."

What Twitter is focussing on now, says Williams, is "increasing the signal-to-noise ratio and giving people really valuable stuff with as little effort as possible. And if you are sharing stuff how can you get that to people who care?"

Getting people to spend more time using Twitter is not an objective, says Williams. "We have a bit of a dichotomy because there's more and more stuff every day that you may want to follow on Twitter, or search for.

"Our goal is not to just maximise that – we understand that people have a limited amount of time and attention and our hope is that Twitter can help you direct your attention in ways that are useful to you.

"So we have no interest in just increasing the time you spend on the Twitter site – if anything we'd like to decrease it. We want to make Twitter a tool for you that helps you get stuff done."

Global Editor-in-Chief

After watching War Games and Tron more times that is healthy, Paul (Twitter, Google+) took his first steps online via a BBC Micro and acoustic coupler back in 1985, and has been finding excuses to spend the day online ever since. This includes roles editing .net magazine, launching the Official Windows Magazine, and now as Global EiC of TechRadar.