From Coining the Term 'Blogger' to 500 Million Twitter Users

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  • Evan Williams , Co-Founder Twitter and Partner at Obvious

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About Evan Williams

We had a full house last Friday when Evan Williams, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, dropped by our offices to chat about how he's worked to revolutionize the way we communicate on the internet. Our HQ was jam packed with some 150 people and everyone of them was excited to hear more about Ev's latest venture, Medium. The new web publishing is poised to once again change the way we exchange ideas and share our thoughts on the Web.

Not only did Ev give us the inside scoop on Medium, but he also told us the real story about how the term "Blogger" was created. He also dished out some great entrepreneurial advice on how to deal with differing co-founder visions.

Feel free to listen to the podcast as you read through the summary of the event below.

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Weblog, Wee Blog, Blogger

Story goes that Ev coined the term blogger just as he was pioneering a new era in blogging. But that's not exactly what happened. The term "blog," of course, was coined by Peter Merholz. Or as Ev tells the story of the blog and blogger:

It was sort of a joke when he said it. Instead of calling them weblogs, we should say "wee blogs." And then I thought blogger would be a good product name and it wasn't really applied to the people who blogged because that wasn't a common term yet. So in a sense, there wasn't a usage of the term blogger, but my definition of it was just a product and then it came to mean the generic word for someone who blogs.

As for being part of a term that's heavily incorporated into our internet vocabulary, Ev had this to say:

It feels like kinda being part of a movement, being at the right place and time so I don't pat myself on the back too often about that.

"There Should Be Medium-sized Blogging"

Ev and his Twitter co-Founder Biz Stone's latest project is Medium, which hopes to change the way we write, publish and read content on the Web. The name actually was born from a joke between Biz and Ev. They were talking about how there was short and long blogging. "There should be medium-sized blogging," they joked. But the name resonated with Ev and he wrote it down on the whiteboard and it eventually stuck.

But the idea for Medium goes back even further for Ev.

I couldn't get out of my head some of the things I'd been thinking about for, literally, over a decade. There are ideas in Blogger that we actually built and prototyped at Blogger around 2000 that I've never seen come to fruition. It's possible that those were bad ideas and that's why. But it was the combination of ideas from way back when and everything we've learned in the last decade.

Ev was also influenced by looking at the technology of today and the current state of media, all of which seemed to be pointing to "that there's a next thing." He said there isn't one specific problem they are trying to solve with Medium, but a bunch of different ones, which makes it an ambitious project. The current release of Medium was pushed in an effort to get something out the door since with a product like this, you have the potential to just sit and iterate on it ... forever.

Raising the Bar on Quality Content

One problem that Ev and Obvious are trying to address is the quality of content. The internet has been wonderful in giving everyone a voice, but there's also been a lowering of the bar when it comes to content creation in some cases, he pointed out. He said everyone having a voice is a "profound thing and generally a good thing." But there's a lot more the internet could be doing to help make people smarter, to help improve the quality of where people put their attention with the deluge of content on the Web, he said.

The goal with Medium is to have a place where quality thrives, not quantity.

My frustration with the state of media today is just the level of discourse in society is hugely affected by media and it seems like it's getting worse and worse.

In other words, it's hard to have quality discourse. Not only is quality important, but also having a place where others can collaborate when it comes to creating that quality content.

Social media, in general, is mostly focused on the individual. How can I be smarter, clever or funny and get attention on my own? But most of the best things in the world — media or otherwise — are always the works of more than one person.

Rather than having just singular author blogs, Medium will have collections on a variety of topics that anyone can contribute to. That will also make it easy for those who want to write but don't want to maintain a full blog to actually contribute material. As Ev said, there will be a seat at the table for anyone who wants to contribute.

Author is relevant. If you're reading an opinion piece, you said it is very relevant. If you're reading a how to, does this person know what they're talking about. All that is super important in context to any type of information, but what we're doing that's different is that not being the only determining factor about what you pay attention to.

However, to raise the bar requires a different of kind of metric outside of the obvious pageviews and unique visits, said Ev. When you pay attention to these types of metrics, it becomes less about creativity but instead focused on the ability to write a sensational headline or throwing in a bunch of links to lure viewers. This doesn't mean they will actually read the content, though. By having readers vote on the quality of content they are presented, it's possible to determine that the material was actually read and not just looked at, explained Ev.

Our goal is to make Medium have the absolute best quality of content in the world about almost anything.

By being collaborative and having that voting mechanism, Medium hopes to do just that. However, Ev doesn't want to set the expectations too high at this point.

"It's Not Hard to Make Money on the Internet"

There can't help but be comparisons of Medium to other products, such as Tumblr or even Quora. When one audience member asked how Medium compares to Quora, Ev said:

Both companies are definitely going to make money. It's not hard to make money on the internet. It's not … if what you build is popular, it will make money. The question is will it be popular. There's no product even in the olden days that was significantly popular and couldn't make money and had to shut down. Today, it's easier than ever. They'll make money once we try, if we get popular — not that we're necessarily going to wait to get popular to make money. There are a lot of ways to do that.

Ev said there are probably more differences than similarities between the products, such as that Medium isn't trying to answer specific questions and that there is much more room for art, prose and critique than with Quora.

When Co-Founders Have Differing Visions

Medium isn't the first time Ev's worked to create a product. There's Twitter, of course, and Blogger. As an entrepreneur and co-founder, Ev has had to deal with the occasional differing visions of his fellow co-founders.

There have definitely been a lot of occasions when we've had differing visions and that's usually a good thing. And when it goes well is when where that turns into a healthy debate.

Of course, Ev's been CEO of all the companies he's co-founded, he joked. Seriously, however, he said he never had a situation where differing visions really were a problem, especially in the beginning of a product because you don't necessarily know what the product is or will be. He spoke about how at first he wasn't as committed to Blogger as his other co-founders were, since it started out as a side project. Then it took off and he eventually came around.

But when Blogger was losing money in 2000, there was talk about moving it more toward the enterprise space.

By that time, I'd come around to Blogger. And I'd really fallen in love with the idea of the vision of democratizing information and really fulfilling that promise of the internet that anyone can have a voice and that anyone can publish.

Ev stuck to his guns, figuring that it was better for the company to die doing the important than rather than making money, which he cited as one of the reasons for the breaking up of the company. "Sometimes you have to go with what you think is right," he said.

The tough thing about being a founder or a leader is making tough calls based on incomplete information. I tried to get better at that over the years. It's really hard when you don't know. It's easier in retrospect.

Our conversation with Ev continued as he spoke about content discovery and traditional media. We'd like to thank Ev for sitting down with us and giving us the scoop on Medium and sharing his insights into what it's like being a co-founder and leader.

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Ryan: First of all, I want to say believe it or not, there was a time when the term "blogger" wasn't part of our vocabulary. The story goes that Ev coined the term as he was pioneering in web publishing and his co- creation, Blogger, is credited with the proliferation of blogs and bloggers that we see today. Not only did he strike lightning once, but he did it twice when he co-founded Twitter with Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone. Now he's set to revolutionize the web-publishing industry once again with Medium. We're very excited to welcome Ev on the heels of that announcement but first of all, let's give a warm welcome to Ev Williams.


First of all, I actually want to ask you, is this sort of true? Did you actually coin the term "blogger"?

Evan: It's hard to say. The term "blog" is credited to Peter Merholz, a friend of mine, and it was sort of a joke when he said it. He said, instead of calling them "web logs", we should call them "we blog". Then I thought "blogger" would be a good product name and it wasn't really applied to people who blog because that wasn't a common term yet. In a sense, there wasn't usage of the term "blogger" but my definition of it was just a product and then it became to mean the generic word, someone who blogs, which made the product have a less distinctive brand name. It's a complicated story. It all worked out.

Ryan: But how does it feel to be part of something that kind of is now in the lexicon of the Internet world?

Evan: It feels like it was just kind of being a part of a movement, being a part of the right place at the right time so I don't pat myself on the back too, too often about that.

Ryan: How often? With Blogger, you helped usher in this new era of web publishing and you're almost poised to do that again with Medium and I kind of wanted to know why go back to web publishing after Blogger and Twitter and what is the specific problem that you guys are trying to address here and how is that different from those other projects?

Evan: We started Medium basically because I couldn't stop thinking about web publishing and when we started Obvious, that wasn't necessarily the plan. We were toying with a bunch of different ideas. We have a few different projects but I just couldn't get out of my head some of the stuff that I had been thinking about for literally over a decade.

There are ideas in Blogger that we actually built and prototyped in Blogger around 2000 that I've never seen come to fruition. It's possible those are bad ideas and that's why but it was the combination of ideas from way back then and everything we've learned in the last decade as well as the new capabilities of our technology infrastructure and the state of media today that all pointed in this direction of, "There's the next thing."

This isn't done and there isn't one, specific problem we're trying to solve with Medium. It's actually a bunch of different stuff, which makes it a pretty ambitious but complicated project. What we've released so far, we've sort of pushed something out the door because it's the type of project that you can sit forever in and just iterate and never complete and be overly complex.

But to give you a sense of the type of stuff we're trying to address, one is we think that there needs to be a feedback mechanism that helps content get better. We've done a lot over the last decade or more, and "we" being the Internet, those people who make the Internet, to lower the bar to media and content creation. That's really what we were focused on with Blogger and with Twitter is make it very, very easy for anyone to have a voice and put it out there in the world. To me, that is a profound thing and generally a really good thing. It was one of the big promises of the Internet is that anyone can have a voice.

That's tremendously profound but I think there's a lot more that the Internet can do to help make people smarter, to help improve the quality, where people put their attention. In today's world, because it's so easy to have a voice and because distribution of content is so cheap, obviously everyone is dealing with a deluge of too much stuff. So we have to start addressing, "How do we make that stuff better?" and, "How do we pay attention to the right things?" because we're never going to see everything. So those are just a couple of the issues we want to address.

Other issues we want to address are the fact that, personally, I get frustrated that it's hard to collaborate with other people when it comes to blogging or creating other types of content. Social media in general is mostly focused on the individual. "How can I be smarter, cleverer or funny and get attention on my own?" But most of the best things in the world that have been created, media or otherwise, are always the works of more than one person.

While it's great that you can be your own author, editor, publisher all-in- one on the web, it's not great, in my opinion, that you have to be, unless you want to build a whole organization or join an organization.

The Internet is fantastic at bringing people together to do things that they couldn't do on their own and you see examples of that in, say, open- source software or Wikipedia, but why don't we see that in other types of content and other types of intellectual creations? I think it's highly doable. It's just we haven't built the mechanisms to do it. So that's some of the thinking but there's more kind of far out ideas around the Medium and we're just scratching the surface so it'll be a journey.

Ryan: What are some of those far off ideas?

Evan: We're going to leave some of them as surprises.

Ryan: In terms of the content, how do you guys see Medium actually kind of revolutionizing and change the very fabric of the state of media creation and content?

Evan: I don't want to set too high expectations but, like I said, the goal is to have something where quality thrives, not just quantity. We believe quality can come from anyone. The goal, explicitly, is not to create yet another place where everyone creates stuff and where the bar is very, very low but people get this positive feedback loop to personal expression and, therefore, I guess very popular because lots of people create stuff. It's really to let important ideas shine.

Personally, my frustration with the state of media today is just the level of discourse in society is hugely affected by media and it seems like it's getting worse and worse. You can look at our current Presidential race. It's infuriating if you actually care about issues and want to have intelligent conversations.

That's possible on-line, now, more easily than it ever was before but it's not the default. As well as just on wider issues, the fact that the Internet is undermining traditional economic models that paid thinkers and designers and quality content creators. I don't think that means that there aren't new economic models that the Internet can support that help get those people paid.

The way things are heading towards shallower and shallower content, is partially because of the metrics we pay attention to and the feedback mechanisms that we have today. If what you pay attention to is page views and unique visitors, which is what those of us on the web have paid attention to since the beginning because that's what we got from our stats programs, then you're going to learn to spend less time creating a page.

You'll write a headline that gets as many people to that page as possible and put a whole bunch of links on that page that takes them to another page whether or not they've read it or not because that's not a metric you pay attention to or whether they thought it was good or not is not a metric you pay attention to.

One of the things we're trying to do is, "Let's pay attention to different metrics." Not everybody will care about those metrics if they're purely commercial-driven and what they're making money from is page views but let's change the dynamics so there are other things to get better at and improve at.

When I say the goal of Medium is not to have everybody in the world creating content, it's also a goal to be completely open to letting anyone do it and to let the best ideas rise to the top. The web and the Internet enable this more than it ever did before.

It's fairly friction-free is someone has a phenomenal idea and is able to articulate it, it can get attention on the web certainly much more easily than in a traditional media world but it's still quite a bit of work. A lot of attention is still based off popularity rather than quality. It's still based on sensationalism.

We want to create a system where it's a little bit more based on quality and everybody has a chance and it very efficiently spreads the good stuff.

Ryan: What is the mechanism by which you create that? How do you make sure that that quality content rises to the top?

Evan: One way, to talk more concretely about how Medium's organized and how it works, you can see a little bit of this today but it's just a sliver, the idea that instead of going and creating your own blog, we want to give people a context in which to write or create or share what they want. That context is shared. It could be their own space on Medium but I think it's more powerful if it's, this is where we talk about this particular political issue and the people who are to pay attention to that are all tuned in there, then that's where you want to be.

There's a seat open at the table for anyone who wants to contribute and it'll get more complex over time but there's, like, a voting-type mechanism, there's metrics that we pay attention to that aren't immediately obvious on the surface but we pay attention to whether a post was read, not just if there's a page view. Then, we use that to say, we have this little score, which is pretty primitive right now but it's a relative score. We think of it as our equivalent to page rank.

Google looks at a million different factors to figure out, "Is this a high- quality page for this type of term?" We kind of try to do the same thing within our system and then the more positive reaction to it is, the higher it moves up and the more people will see it.

For people writing on the system today, it's been a little bit surprising because as they've gotten more page views on their posts, some of them have gone down. We're used to just, "More page views is good," but, actually, a fewer percentage of people read it or said it was good in relation to the other stuff, which is always very important because attention is a zero-sum game, to some extent.

If fewer people who checked this out thought that it was good, then people who had checked out this other thing in the same category, then your thing should go down. It's not just, "You get more page views over time, that's great." It's actually a better use of people's time to spend it over on this other thing, then that's what we want to show to people. Does that make sense?

Ryan: Right. It's not necessarily the page views, but is it more time spent on the page? What is the exacting metric here that we're talking about?

Evan: The most significant one is whether people click the little green button.

Ryan: It's that simple.

Evan: Yeah. It's sort of a funny mechanism that's still a bit experimental. We didn't want to just create a "like" or "fave" or a "thumbs up", but it's that same type of thing. But, it's specific to the context it's in and it's a little bit fun. It's also relevant that these little, green buttons, the "likes", essentially, are custom to the collection. There's a collection, it's like, "Look what I made," and the little green button says, "Nice work," instead of, "I like this." In other cases, like there's an opinion piece and it says, "Good point." But they all mean the same thing. They mean, "It's a good job."

Ryan: "Good job, everyone."

Evan: Yeah.

Ryan: Very good. In terms of these collections, is there a paradigm shift, because I've read some things on-line that say that it's putting the authorship secondary to the actual content.

Evan: That's true.

Ryan: Is that a fair . . .?

Evan: Yeah. Maybe not the extent that some people have assumed because one of the reasons people thought that now is because we don't really have profile pages. We just link to people's Twitter profiles because we use Twitter authentication. We will have profile pages because I think that'll just be cool.

One of the ideas that makes it work that I'm contributing to all these different collections, not just my own thing, is that it's all pulled together on one page. So I can still have that view of everything. However, the main navigation and discovery mechanism we expect to be through collections, which are content-driven, rather than through people. That's, I think, very important.

One of the top-rated posts in the IMHO collections on Medium is my rant on the term "social media" and Medium is specifically not social media, by my definition, because I think what happens with social media, which is fine, is it has lots of great uses but what I want to pay attention to, I don't want to be primarily driven by my relationships, certainly not by who I went to school with and where I grew up.

Of course we built Twitter that way. Twitter is not a social network, primarily. It's an information network and it was designed so you could tune into who you want to pay attention to, whether you know them or not.

But the routing of information is still determined by people and this is going more towards the information, so author is relevant. If you're reading an opinion piece, who said it is very relevant. If you're reading a how-to, does this person know what they're talking about, all that super important context to any type of information. What we're doing that's a little different is trying to make that not the determining factor about what you pay attention to.

Ryan: Got you. Got you. To go on that, one of the things I also kind of read is that someone had described it as, "Tumblr meets Pinterest". Do you think that's a fair description or an apt description?

Evan: I think the Pinterest part is confusing. It reveals a very, very superficial view of it because I think the only thing that's Pinterest- like is that it's laid out in a grid.

Ryan: RIght. No recipes or anything, right?

Evan: Yeah. There might be recipes. It's not for aggregating stuff on the web. It's obviously not only for images and the collections even, maybe they got those from the collections because there are kind of topics on Pinterest but for the most part they're shared and they're not like Pinterest boards. I'm guessing it's mostly the grid thing that's throwing people off.

Ryan: Right, right, right. I think it's a want to kind of come up with the pitch line.

Evan: Yeah, people, they need to put it in . . .

Ryan: In context of what already exists.

Evan: Exactly.

Ryan: Got you. My last question on Medium, and I think you've already touched on it a little bit, but I think every once in awhile, there does come this new format that's says, "We're going to change the way you publish on the web," and what's ultimately going to set Medium apart from all of those other promises?

Evan: It's hard to say that generally. Our goal is to make Medium have the absolute best quality content in the world about almost anything. So, ultimately, if we achieve that, you'll want to publish on Medium from the creator's point of view, it will be, "That's where I want to be because that's where important stuff is." If we achieve that, that's where the audience will be.

It will have network effects eventually but in the short term, we obviously don't have it. But the vast majority of page views on Medium right now are coming from Twitter and Facebook and Hacker News and the things that the early adopters use.

The reason to publish on Medium today, the primary reasons are it's a clean, well-lit, nice interface to create, put up stuff that looks good. That is not the full promise but it's pretty good. It's better than, I think, we've put a lot of thought into the editor, which most people haven't seen, but it's totally whizzywig.

It's totally uncomplicated and it doesn't have a toolbar. You write on the page. It has a very minimal toolbar. You can format stuff just as much as you need to but we don't overwhelm you with three stacks of buttons. You don't have as much control as you do in Microsoft Word or Blogger, for that matter, because you can't change fonts and you can't change font color. All you can do is bold, italicize, make two levels of subheads, link and block quote. That's it. Everything else comes from the template and you have no control of that but that means everything looks good and you don't have to think about that while you're writing.

I find I like to write in there better than anywhere else because choices everywhere else either pretty much has just plain text, which works if things are fairly short, but I get frustrated with as soon as I want to make a link or I want to create a subhead and the longer it gets, the more kind of structure I want to put in it.

Or, you can do everything and then I get totally consumed in what should be the height between the paragraphs. So in Medium I can't do any of those things so I write better and I write faster. Then the result is a page that looks good. That's one thing. It's just the quality of the tools and that experience.

The other most important thing right now is, again, context. What I'm hearing from a lot of people, whether they have blogs or not, is there's a lot of people out there in the world who have things to say but they do not have the desire or the time to sustain a blog. What they have to say is too long for Twitter and their Facebook friends aren't the right audience.

So just filling that void, I think, is a pretty significant thing. A lot of people even who have blogs are giving this feedback that they like a lot because they're writing things that they wouldn't have blogged because their blog has a particular context, a particular audience that this thing doesn't fit in.

They might bring something to me that they want to share and find the right context or, what's happening right now, because Medium's not very broad yet, is these collections are prompting them to share something and people will only show up if they care about that thing, so people are telling a story that they would never have written on their blog because that's a place where that can have a story. That's, I think, pretty powerful and it will extend in a lot of different directions.

Ryan: Got you. And finally, when do all get a crack at it? When do we all get to taste Medium and use it and create good content?

Evan: I'll have to get back to you on that.

Ryan: I tried, folks. I really tried.

Evan: We don't have specific dates. I'll tell you how we're rolling it out is basically, what we want to do is, as rapidly as possible, roll out the creation tools. We don't want to do it prematurely. From a product design perspective, when you're in this mode in the very beginning and you're making a lot of choices that have very long-lasting effects. So as you're getting more data and getting more feel for the product and learning what it wants to be, you want to be really thoughtful about those choices because a difference of one or two degrees in your trajectory puts you in a very different place down the road.

We're kind of consciously going slower than we could because it's not just a matter of scaling. My engineering team is amazing and we have this very solid technical foundation. We could open it up to a lot more people, but the faster we do that, the harder it is to change what it is.

We've already made some decisions since opening it up to the few we have so far, not because of what they've told us, but just about what we've learned since we've seen more content poured into it. Then we're like, "Aha! We need to shift this direction." So that's why we're being so about it.

Ryan: Got you. Just to go back in time, think of it as giving an insider view of Medium.

Evan: No one knows any of that. You guys are the first. Aren't you glad you came? Again, I want to keep expectations low.

Ryan: We only have high expectations. I kind of want to go back in time and kind of pick your brain on some of your experiences as a co- founder and an entrepreneur. You've been involved with the creation of many projects, Blogger, Twitter and now Medium. You've had successes and failures and I kind of want to know, for yourself, how do you deal with having differing visions of a product with your co-founders and what some of those may have been and how you kind of dealt with that.

Evan: Well, there definitely have been a lot of occasions when we've had differing visions. That's usually a good thing. When it goes well is when that turns into a healthy debate. I've, fortunately, been CEO of all the companies I've co-founded so that's how it works for me.

Ryan: It allows you final say.

Evan: Yeah. I've never had a situation where we had such differing visions that it's really a problem but in the beginning of a product, you just don't know necessarily what it is. There was a time during Blogger's early phase, say, 2000, Blogger was about a year old and we were totally out of money. At first, Blogger was a side project for Pyra. Our project management type thing was really my baby and I'd been thinking about it for years and it was this much more complex thing.

Blogger was a thing that was my idea but I wasn't as committed to it, actually, as my cofounders. We were trying to do both things and we were four people and that was pretty silly. After we had launched Blogger and it was starting to get some momentum, they kept saying, "We should really just do this," and I was like, "But I don't want to give up this and maybe we can do both," and they were pretty strongly saying, "No, this is the thing." Obviously they were right and eventually I came around but that was in mid-2000.

Then later in the year when we were totally running out of money, it's hard to fathom now but at the time, a lot of consumer Internet companies were running out of money. They're like, "How do we get money if the funding well's dried up? Let's go to corporations and let's sell our product we'd built for consumers to corporations." We had had a bunch of inquiries about putting Blogger inside the firewall and so there was a project to develop what we called "Enterprise Blogger".

Then there's another argument amongst the team about just totally pivoting, which wasn't a word we used at the time, but totally focusing on the enterprise.

In that case, by that time I had come around to Blogger and I had really fallen in love with the idea of the vision of democratizing information and really fulfilling that promise of the Internet that anyone can have a voice and anyone can publish. While I saw the business and actually it could be a cool product inside the enterprise, I was like, "There's no way to we can do both and if we do that, then we're giving up on this much more important thing we could do.

Even if the company dies trying to do the important thing, I'd rather do that than do this other thing and keep the company alive." That kind of did break up the company but sometimes you just have to go with what you think is right.

Ryan: Right, right. Is that always, like, a hard call when you have to make that decision?

Evan: Yeah. That's the tough thing about being a founder or leader, of course, is making calls based on incomplete information. I've tried to get better at that over the years because it's really hard when you really don't know. It's always easier in retrospect to say, "I totally knew that was the way to go," but no. I had an inkling that was the way to go and you have to make a call. There's, of course, examples during Twitter.

An example with Twitter, not necessarily with my cofounders, but going against the team is something that when we designed re-tweet, most people totally disagreed with what we ended up doing and I adamantly fought to do what we did and it was based on this understanding of where we wanted to go, the trajectory that we wanted to go down and, at the time, some people were re-tweeting, of course, through third-party apps and manually with the "RT", what we call the old school re-tweet. I thought that's not the way it should work. A tweet should be this cohesive unit and it should travel with the avatar and the author of the person who originally said it.

So we started designing that and people internally, we call it "the strangers in my timeline problem". It's like, "Who are these people showing up in my timeline? I don't know this person and it's frightening me." It sounds strange now. I insisted that it had to travel like that and be by the original author with just their picture because it was their thought.

The purpose of Twitter wasn't to hang out with your friends. There were other places to hang out with your friends. The purpose of Twitter was to find out about the information you most wanted to know and the re-tweet mechanism was a way to more efficiently have the good stuff flow through the system and we wanted to track that and we wanted to do all these other things to use that as a quality filter.

Anyway, so it pushed that through and that was a case where I was fairly certain but it was certainly hard to try and push that through the team that was building it and say, "This is the way it should be." But eventually everybody agreed with me.

Ryan: That's the good thing about being CEO, right? It's good to be the CEO. Ryan: Or at least they told you they agreed with you. I don't know. Very good. You know, we've got about 10 minutes left and I want to make sure the audience gets its questions so I'm going to pitch it to them. I saw your hand up, go first.

Audience Member: You mentioned you have content in Medium. I assume, starting out, you have dozens (inaudible 33:40). How do you think about the content discovery problem of it for your readers?

Ryan: Content discovery problem for the readers is the question in Medium.

Evan: It's a big one. Every platform that reaches critical mass, discovery becomes the number one problem. It's the number one problem in Twitter. It's the number on problem on YouTube and probably Tumblr but those are just from experiencing Twitter and talking to the YouTube folks.

I want to do something different in Medium than the normal mechanisms. I think what happens often is you start inventing new mechanisms to discover content and there's only one or two mechanisms that ever get used. So you have to have things like search but Twitter, for instance, I thought lists were really, really important and partially we didn't implement them right but it turned out they weren't important at all. I also thought groups and lots of other things would be important in Twitter and they weren't.

It's one of those questions that I'm not going to give you the direct answer for what we're going to do. Obviously we haven't done it yet and as we build it, we're going to probably change our minds. One of the interesting things now you can do is you can kind of off-load discovery more than you used to.

The reason we launched Medium as we did, with no discovery whatsoever is because we decided that we're just going to push that to Twitter. It's by no means perfect because there's no way to browse what's available on Medium but people will get to the content and that's the important thing. They are and if someone publishes something on Medium and wants it to be discovered, they can tweet it.

Ryan: I actually saw someone over there raise their hand.

Audience Member: How does Medium compare to Quora? How are both companies going to make money?

Evan: Both companies are definitely going to make money. [laughter] It's not hard to make money on the Internet. [laughter] It's not. If what you build is popular, it'll make money. The question is, "Will is be popular?" There's no product, even in the olden days, that was significantly popular and couldn't make money and had to shut down.

Today, it's easier than ever. So, yeah, they'll make money once we try, if we get popular. Not that we're necessarily going to wait to get popular and make money but there's lot of ways to do that.

There's some similarities with Quora but there's probably more differences. Obviously Quora is based more around Q&A, which we're not. Quora also seems very focused on - I don't actually know what their mission is and don't know the Quora guys that well.

I think it's a great product. I use the product. I like the product. I don't see a lot of conflict between them but Medium is probably more... it's less utilitarian, I would say, because it's not just about what's that answer to a question.

There's room for art and prose and critique and opinion and it has much more of a publishing perspective than an application perspective, so things can look different and things will look like finished products and, yeah, there's probably lots of other differences but that's sort of a high level.

Ryan: This gentleman right here.

Audience Member: What do you think newspapers, especially traditional newspapers, New York Times, etc., are going to say about Medium?

Evan: You mean internally or externally?


Audience Member: Internally.

Evan: Yeah, I don't know what they'll say externally or internally. I think hopefully there'll be ways to... We're not really focused on news very much. We're definitely talking to people in the publishing industry, maybe more on the magazine side. Everybody in publishing, when you come up with something new, is like, "Let's talk. Let's figure out how we can play together." We don't want to be the enemy of stuff and we don't have anything that we're pitching them yet.

What I think more about than the publications themselves is journalists and reporters and writers and authors. I think, ultimately, we may be able to give them alternatives about where they publish and empower them to make money in different ways.

That's going to sound like an announcement so don't distort that but that goes back to the whole industry and being undermined. I think there should be ways for people who make a living or part of their living from creating things, there should be other alternatives than the traditional publications which are under a lot of pressure.

Ryan: OK. This gentleman right over here.

Audience Member: I have two questions and you can pick the one you want to answer. First one is you told us a little bit about the history of why this project was important to you going back to going back many years. I was wondering if you could peel back the curtain and tell us a little bit about the kind of experiments that you did internally that led up and have confidence that this is one that you should go ahead and launch, or tell us what you love about the name and how you got the domain.

Evan: God, hard to choose between those questions. I'm going to answer them both but quickly. The name "Medium" came from Biz and I joking around and talking about Twitter and long blogging and we said, "There should be medium-sized blogging."

I immediately went up to the whiteboard and wrote down the word "medium" and I was like, "That's the name, Medium." I checked if was in use and it was owned by a domainer - is that what they call themselves? - who happened to be one of these guys who just sits on domains for many, many years and negotiates very difficultly until you pay them a lot of money.

The reason I liked it when I looked up the definition of "medium" is one of the definitions is, "the singular of media," and it was about pulling in all kinds of different stuff, so I really liked that and then it just has a nice aesthetic.

To answer the other question, we really didn't do that many experiments that gave us confidence in Medium, of the idea. In fact, we did experiments that would undermine our confidence in the idea because a year ago, when we were just getting developers into Obvious and just sort of really in experimental mode, I, of course, had a lot of ideas about publishing then.

We tried some stuff and it didn't work at all and no one was really into it. So we did other stuff then for, like, nine months until after the holiday this last year. I had kind of cleared my mind and came in and said, "I'm sick of doing all this other stuff. We're building a publishing platform," and we did.

There was a brainstorming session in between there. I don't want to undermine my team so much.


That was my internal thought. Then I wanted to really be sure so we did a bunch of brainstorming and prototyping and talking and the idea had solidified more and basically through all that brainstorming, everybody kind of liked that idea, which I was happy about.

Ryan: You had your hand up a few times?

Audience Member: I see a parallel between Quora and Medium in the sense that they're all interest basis. You have (inaudible 42:33) whereas Quora kind of bills itself as a reverse blogging platform. I'm wondering about your thoughts there and I'm assuming you'll integrate Medium with Twitter's advertising product for an enhanced distribution and that's probably your revenue stream for you?

Evan: No thoughts on the Twitter advertising integration. We do want to integrate with Twitter in other ways, I mean, we already do but there'll be more integration with Twitter. I think the goal is to make the products very complementary. I hadn't really heard Quora is reverse blogging. That's an interesting way to think about it and it is oriented around topics so maybe there are some similarities.

Audience Member: (inaudible 43:20)

Evan: Cool.

Ryan: We have one more question really good.

Audience Member: I think this will be good.


I was just wondering how - it seems like you're spending a lot of time on the product because you're the founder. I was just wondering how do you spend your day? Like, what does you day consist of? How do you work on a project?

Evan: My favorite days consist of one or two internal meetings and no external meetings. I very rarely say, 'yes' to external meetings unless they're for a specific purpose because I need a lot of time. What I love doing and think I'm best at doing is just obsessing over a product and working on it with the team and on the whiteboard and with designers and engineers and hashing it out.

My days vary a lot because I do some days still working on recruiting and we have a few other projects under the Obvious umbrella that I spend some time on. But my perfect day is to just focus all day on the product and work with the team and that's where things work. I have lunch and I go to the gym and then I go home and hang out with my two young kids and my wife (inaudible 44:46) awesome, too.

Ryan: Awesome. Well, thank you very much, Adam. I really appreciate you coming out for ZURBsoapbox.

Just to let everyone know, we have some amazing speakers coming up in the next couple of months. Follow us on You'll hear all about it. Some big surprises in September.

That's all I'm going to say. Big surprises. All right. Thank you very much, everyone.

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