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Interview to Ev Williams, founder of Twitter and Medium


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“It’s understandable why media on the web is like it is today,” Williams tells the Guardian. “That’s not to say there’s not a lot of great stuff out there, but a lot of people are dissatisfied with it. A lot of journalists who want to do great stuff are dissatisfied. Advertisers and brands are dissatisfied. We’re still stuck in some very naive thinking, with the idea that people consuming media means that’s what they want – it’s like, well, we put junk food in front of them and they ate that, so that must be what they want.”

That view may strike many as slightly ironic, given Williams was a co-founder and former chief executive of Twitter, which has just celebrated its 10th birthday. But while he is now dedicated to his own project, Medium, which has become a magnet for pretty much anyone looking to put their writing on the web, he says both services are at their root about democratising and simplifying publishing and access to information.

“I’ve been working on publishing systems on the internet for my entire career, which is coming up on 20 years now,” says Williams. “When I stepped back from operations at Twitter, I thought, OK, what’s next? There was no longer this need to make it easy. We’d checked that box. It’s easy to create a website. It’s even easier to send a tweet. But it turns out it wasn’t the case that more information would automatically make us all smarter as individuals or as a society. There was still something missing and broken with the system we’re relying on to get our information, that told us how to understand the world.”

The point, he says, is fixing the feedback loops that drive the production of so much junk. “I think a lot about systems which are dynamic and about how feedback loops drive behaviour,” Williams explains.

“If you look at feedback loops like likes and retweets, they’ve been very carefully crafted to maximise certain types of behaviours. But if we reward people based on a measurement system where there’s literally no difference between a one-second page view or reading something that brought them value or changed their mind, it’s like – your job is feeding people, but all you’re measuring is maximising calorie delivery. So what you’d learn is that junk food is more efficient than healthy, nourishing food.”

'nuff said.


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