“So, how does it feel to be the voice of the press in the 21 century?,” Emily Bell asked Twitter CEO Dick Costolo during a keynote interview Friday at the Online News Association Conference in San Francisco.
“I don’t view that as my job, of course,” he said. “When I said I think of Twitter as a tech company in a media business, I chose my words very intentionally there. Tech companies’ primary responsibility is creating a platform … A company trying to build media is creating or curating content, and that’s not kind of company we’re creating.”
“We are in media business because we sell ads,” he continued.
On the topic of free speech, Costolo noted the many different laws around the world, and the “enormous number of people and resources assigned to” dealing with them at Twitter.
“You can’t come up with a one size fits all solution to it,” he said.
In terms of internal resources, Bell asked Costolo how many employees now work at Twitter. The answer helped illustrate how much the company has grown in just a few years:
Twitter now has 1300 employees, says @dickc, up from 80 when @ev spoke three years ago at last ONA conference #ona12
— Burt Herman (@burtherman)
September 21, 2012
Bell then casually asked about revenues.
“We don’t talk about our revenues,” Costolo said, noting the company is private.
On the note of public versus private companies, he singled out News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch as a great example of how a prominent person and CEO of a public company can use Twitter.
Murdoch “has been amazing at getting other public CEOs to realize ‘Oh I can do this and not have to worry about it,’ ” he said.
Bell retorted, “There was a time when we were all desperate to know what he thought and now we’re all just like, ‘Shh!’ ”
Costolo said that the advantage with having Murdoch on Twitter is, “You start to get a 360 degree of this person as opposed to this … filtered view of him.”
Asked who he would like to see on Twitter, Costolo said New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
“Is it possible to have Piers Morgan removed from Twitter?” Bell said, drawing yet more laughs.
“I had no idea I was going to be the straight man” in the interview, Costolo said.
Piers Morgan offered his own reply on Twitter:
Nope – @jack ‘s got my back RT @AntDeRosa: “Is it possible to have @PiersMorgan removed from Twitter?” – @emilybell asks @dickc #ONA12
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan)
September 21, 2012
Bell questioned Costolo about the changes to the Twitter API, which has been drawing consistent chatter and concern.
“There is a big distinction between having an API and having a real platform,” he said.
Twitter will continue to provide a free API, Costolo said, at an “enormous” cost to itself.
However, he said, there was often confusion brought on by the abundance of Twitter clients available for the iPhone, or Android.
“In spring 2010 we realized … there is enormous friction in having people migrate from one platform from another,” he said.
Costolo cited Amazon as an example of what they “aspire to be as a platform company,” and listed Amazon’s decision to allow other booksellers onto its site as an example of that vision.
As for the concerns about changes to the API, Costolo said people have begun using it as a scapegoat for decisions being made by other companies.
“I don’t mean to be flippant, but there’s a little bit of ‘I didn’t get my homework done because Twitter changed their API,’” he said.
One bit of news from Costolo is that Twitter is working on curation tools for live events that it hopes to makes available for free to newsrooms.
“We have known for a long time that when events happen in the real world, the shared experience is on Twitter and we want to create an ability to curate events,” he said.
One unresolved issue they are grappling with is whether an “algorithmically curated experience is a better experience than an editorially curated experience.”
“We haven’t decided internally the answer to that,” he said.
But one thing they know is when you filter a stream so that it only shows the most popular tweets, “You lose the roar of the crowd.”
The noise of chatter is a valuable part of the experience, in Costolo’s view.
Even the popular #NBCFail hashtag that emerged during the Olympics in protest of NBC’s decision to tape-delay coverage.
“While the digerati were tweeting NBCFail, it is absolutely the case that they had the highest rated Olympics in 36 years,” he said.
One reason? People would watch Twitter during the day and see news of an important race or medal. Then they would know to tune in that night.
“There is a relationship between Twitter and tune in, and Twitter and TV,” Costolo said.
Two other bits of news that may please journalists: Costolo said the company is committed to supporting TweetDeck as a Twitter client for more professional users, such as journalists. And he said he hopes that everyone will be able to download their tweets “before the end of the year.”