Twitter creator reflects on how the service can evolve


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Twitter creator Jack Dorsey at a Washington cafe. Credit: Mark Milian
Keep it down! It’s not easy for Twitter creator and Chairman Jack Dorsey to focus on ways to improve the product when everyone won’t stop chirping about it.

Every celebrity from Ashton to Zac Efron (though, this may not be his real account -- thanks, readers) is Twittering, and it was even the subject on Oprah last month. Dorsey and his co-founders, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, have been featured in countless profiles in practically every major publication. And now there’s talk of a Twitter TV show.


Will the hype ever die down?

‘I hope so,’ Dorsey said over lunch at a sidewalk cafe in Washington this month. ‘I think Twitter succeeds when people don’t talk about it as much and just use it.’

Don’t get Dorsey wrong; he’s flattered by all the excitement over his brainchild. But the publicity could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

‘The buzz is definitely good right now, but it’s also potentially dangerous,’ Dorsey said. ‘It may put us into a fad.’

He’s hoping Twitter can transition from this really cool thing that everyone feels pressured into trying to that thing you need to use in order to stay in the loop and be successful.

‘It should just become second nature,’ Dorsey said. ‘It becomes something like an e-mail, where it’s just used on a daily basis because it’s just the most efficient way to communicate.’

However, almost since Twitter’s conception about three years ago, its efficiency has been hindered by its reliability.

‘We had a terrible first year and a half,’ Williams told Charlie Rose in February, referring to stability issues (or the ‘fail whale,’ as early adopters called it). ‘That almost killed us.’

But after feverish work on keeping the service accessible and a recent redesign that puts search at the forefront, Twitter, the service, could soon transform in ...

... unexpected ways. And we’re not talking about new revenue models -- though they are thinking about that too.

In fact, some Twitter users are begging to pay in exchange for additional features -- one of the most commonly requested being more than 140 characters per message.

While that’s not likely to happen soon, Dorsey said he was considering other changes to how tweets are transmitted. For one, Web addresses may eventually not be counted as part of a tweet. Instead, the URL along with info -- like GPS coordinates, pictures or weather data -- would be delivered separately from the core message, saving users precious characters.

When viewing on the website or in software like TweetDeck or Tweetie, that data can be presented in a variety of ways.

‘The essence of Twitter is [that] it’s just an envelope,’ Dorsey said. ‘You could see all these various attributes being added on top of the update itself, and that becomes much richer.’

Basically, that’s metadata -- additional information sent alongside data that helps computers figure out how to process it. E-mails and Web pages, for instance, include header data separate from the subject and body.

‘That, to me, is a very fascinating aspect of the technology that I’d like to see,’ Dorsey said.

But if Twitter does begin cramming in more data per tweet, Dorsey, who uses Twitter primarily via text message, says the stripped-down version must always work, even if bells and whistles are added later.

‘If you’re crafting a message on SMS, then it doesn’t have all those other things,’ he said. ‘It should always degrade gracefully back to the lowest common denominator, which is text messaging.’

So if they add all these new features, should we still call Twitter a micro-blog?

‘We don’t consider Twitter to be a social network. We don’t consider it to be a micro-blog,’ Dorsey said. ‘It’s a new way to communicate.’

Updated, 7:20 p.m.: It’s unclear whether the Zac Efron Twitter account is genuine or not.

-- Mark Milian [follow]