Home' Technology Review : November December 2007 Contents 44 FEATURE STORY
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
When he was 16, Evan Williams loved read-
ing business books. The rst one he read was
about real estate, and at the time, he lived
in Clarks, a town in central Nebraska that
today has a population of 379 and a median home value of
$34,900. Williams wasn t particularly interested in invest-
ing in property in Clarks or anywhere else, but he reveled
in the fact that it was so easy to learn about building busi-
nesses and making money. "I realized I could go buy books
and learn something that people had spent years learning
about," he recalls. "I was very intrigued with the idea that
there s all this stu out there to know that you could use to
your advantage. It was written down in these books, and
no one around me was using it."
Today, Williams is half a continent away from Clarks, in
San Francisco; no longer just reading about business, he s
the founder of Obvious, the Web-product development com-
pany that owns the popular microblogging service Twitter. At
35, without a college degree, he has become a bootstrapping,
improvisational businessman whose decisions are in uenced
by what he describes as "hallucinogenic optimism."
Williams became mildly famous in Silicon Valley dur-
ing the rst dot-com boom, after he cofounded Blogger in
1999. Blogger made it very easy for people to publish their
thoughts on the Web in personal weblogs, as blogs were
known at the time. In 2003, Google acquired Blogger for a
sum the entrepreneur declines to disclose (although he says
it was less than the $50 million that Valleywag, a Silicon
Valley gossip blog, has reported). It was, in any case, a sig-
ni cant amount: Williams worked at the Googleplex in
Mountain View for a little more than a year before he left
with the cash to conjure more winning ideas.
At rst, he struggled to nd something that would fully
engage his energies. But Twitter seems to be it. The idea
behind the service is simple: people compose 140-character
updates about themselves, ostensibly answering the ques-
Evan Williams got rich when he sold Blogger to Google.
Then he started Twitter. In both cases, he extracted a
simple, obvious tool from a more complex, struggling
technology. Is this guy lucky?
What Is He Doing?
By Kate Greene
Photographs by Toby Burditt
tion "What are you doing?" Users can post their updates
by text-messaging from cell phones, by logging on to the
Twitter website, or by using desktop software such as instant-
messaging tools. Messages (also known as twitters, twits,
and tweets) can be private, sent only to friends or groups
of friends, or they can appear on Twitter s home page for
all to see. Twitter has been so successful that last April,
Williams spun it out into its own company.
Twitter s headquarters is in South Park, a tiny San
Francisco neighborhood south of Market Street that attracts
a mixed crowd. During the week, hipsters sip co ee in cafés
on South Park Street, a one-way path that bounds the oval
park; homeless men guard shopping carts near the park s
entrance; and entrepreneurs and computer programmers
gather inside o ces that line the green, trying to build the
next big thing.
I visited Twitter s loftlike o ce to meet Williams on a
warm July afternoon. He has a spare frame and a handsome
face that retains a youthful softness, and he was wearing his
standard out t of plain white T-shirt and jeans. The simplic-
ity that made Blogger so attractive to Google, he told me, is
similarly driving Twitter s growth. Williams matter-of-factly
described how the companies came about (both serendipi-
tously) and explained what he sees as their appeal: they ll
people s need to stay connected with one another.
By the largely noncommercial standards of social-
networking startups, Twitter is a success. (Whether the com-
pany can become a pro table business is another matter, one
much debated among those who follow the social-networking
industry.) Twitter took o in March, around the time it won
a Web Award for best blog at the South by Southwest Inter-
active Festival in Austin, TX. Since then, the number of reg-
istered Twitter users worldwide has been steadily rising.
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