Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

Evan Williams says Twitter fundamental to government

BBC World Service

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams
Evan Williams' Twitter has grown by 1500% in the past year

Social networks will become a fundamental way we communicate with our governments, businesses and loved ones, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams has told the BBC.

He said that Twitter will be expanding into regions where only the simplest of technology is available.

In areas where censorship hinders freedom of speech, he hopes the "open exchange of information will prevail".

There are still no plans to charge end users to use the site.

"Our goal at Twitter is to be a force for good," he told the BBC's Carrie Grace on The Interview.

"We have a fundamental belief, having worked on this type of thing for 10 years, that the open exchange of information has a positive impact on the world."

Part of this vision, Mr Williams adds, will require the service to expand into areas where technology is more limited.

"We think it's particularly exciting in regions where they have less access to information.

"Which is why we're pushing to expand SMS coverage in India, and Haiti, and other areas where with the simplest mobile phone you can get updates and information you've never got before."

But restrictions on Twitter's reach is not just down to technology limitations.

"Last we checked, we were blocked in China.

"My hope is that eventually the open exchange of information will prevail in most regions, but we don't have any specific plans in China or other areas where we're blocked."

Lucrative offer


A season of reports from 8-19 March 2010 exploring the extraordinary power of the internet, including:

Digital giants - top thinkers in the business on the future of the web
Mapping the internet - a visual representation of the spread of the web over the last 20 years
Global Voices - the BBC links up with an online community of bloggers around the world

For the 38-year-old Nebraskan, the free exchange of information is his key motivation - and a key part of why Twitter turned down an offer from Facebook rumoured to be between $300-$500m.

"Most of the biggest and most interesting services are independent.

"I believe that companies that are independent are more competitive, ultimately.

"What we're working on is technology that has the power to change things, and that's very, very exciting and motivating."

Motivation, however, is not enough to keep one of the world's most popular websites operational.

"We can't change the world if we can't pay for our servers and employees.

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams in a radio studio
Mr Williams joined the BBC from San Francisco

"We are working on how we make money."

Thus far, Twitter has survived on outside investors and, more recently, deals with Microsoft and Google to list messages - "tweets" - into search results.

"The real scalable business model is still in the works," he added, citing inspiration from Google's Adwords advertising scheme.

"What we want to do is build something into the product that makes us money and makes the product better.

"And the more people that use Twitter, the more money we make, the better we can make Twitter."

Big names

Twitter's phenomenal growth has in part been down to its adoption by a raft of celebrities.

Mr Williams, however, is less excited by the big names on Twitter - Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Fry et al - than he is about White House press secretary Robert Gibbs signing up.

"[He's] using it to give these sort of inside peeks from the White House and behind the scenes.

"He's definitely using it as part of their strategy and supporting Obama.

"So that seems important because it's really changing the game there."

The Interview
The Interview is a weekly programme broadcast on the BBC World Service .
It is broadcast on Friday at 1132GMT and repeated on Saturday at 0332GMT, 1132GMT and on Sunday at 0632GMT
It is also available as a podcast

He sees people such as Robert Gibbs being instrumental in Twitter's long-term future.

Likewise, the White House has acknowledged the importance of Twitter correspondence - it recently announced that its tweets will be archived in accordance with the Presidential Records Act of 1978.

"I think Twitter will be a fundamental part of how people interact with their government," continued Mr Williams.

"I think it will be how you get personal, customised information from every entity you care about, from your local café to your government, from your politician to your friends and family."

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