Twitter's challenge: Personalization, co-founder says

Making bucks and keeping tweeters happy aren't mutually exclusive, Williams claims.

Making Twitter meaningful on a personal level to its users is the biggest challenge facing the microblogging service in the future, according to former CEO and co-founder Evan Williams. "With 100 million tweets flowing through the system on a daily basis, there's something for everyone, but the real challenge is finding the most valuable stuff for you," he said in an interview that aired today on National Public Radio's On The Media program.

"That may be an alert from a business about something you want to buy, it may be something from a friend, it may be something in the news, and finding that and doing that in real time is incredibly hard, but that is where the real value is going to come from," he observed.

"We really want to make Twitter the source of information that you check several times a day on your mobile phone," he continued. "I think right now Twitter does that in the best cases, but we have a long way to go to make that really valuable."

Asked about Twitter's recent chasing of revenue streams damaging the appeal of the service to its membership, Williams expressed confidence that making bucks and keeping tweeters happy aren't mutually exclusive. Current limitations on promoted tweets to one per search is one way to preserve the service's organic charm, he noted. Continuous analysis of a promoted tweet's engagement is another way to do that. "If people aren't either replying or retweeting or clicking on a link, we take that as a signal that it's not very interesting and then we'll stop showing it."

Garnering revenues through advertising means Twitter must compete with the likes of Google and Facebook. Nevertheless, Williams feels the service has a value proposition that's as attractive to marketers as its competitors. "The nature of Twitter as an information network is extremely valuable for anyone who wants to get a message heard by lots of people," he explained. "Obviously, that's what advertisers pay for."

Better yet, advertisers may be able to get better results with Twitter than other online vehicles. Williams cited a recent "promoted tweet" by the Washington Post aimed at attracting traffic to its election coverage. "That got about a nine percent engagement rate for people who saw it, which, to us, that's orders of magnitude higher than most advertising on the web," he said. It's an order of magnitude for most Internet marketers, too, who see the average click-through rate for an online display ad to be less than one percent.

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John P. Mello Jr.

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