Mini-blogging service’s chief executive discusses surging popularity in the UK and the importance of the service during Iranian election protests
The recession and banking crisis make have taken its toll on London’s reputation as a financial powerhouse but it seems the capital has something else to be proud of – it’s officially the most popular city when for Twitter use.
In his first interview for UK television, Twitter co-founder and chief executive Evan Williams told the BBC’s Newsnight programme about how the UK and London in particularly had taken to Twitter like no other country apart from the US.
“We have definitely noticed that the UK has exploded for us recently. London is actually out top twitter using city of today and the UK is second only to the US when it comes to the number of Twitter users,” he said.
However, living up the news programme’s reputation for never giving interviewees an easy ride, Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark pushed Williams to defend the mini-blogging service for accusations that it created false ideas of community.
“I don’t think its false necessarily, people use technologies to communicate – it’s not any less real than using the telephone to communicate, I don’t think people consider that a false sense of community,” countered Williams.
The Twitter chief was also asked about the popularity of the service amongst celebrities – particularly how it guards against impersonators.
“We actually do verify know entities – and we go do some manual work to verify them for users so there is less chance of impersonation,” said Williams. “A lot of hollywood folks have taken to Twitter as just a way to connect with fans and have their own voice which is not mediated through the usual outlets which has been their only representation for years – they can actually speak to people directly and interact with them and I think a lot of people find that very powerful.”
On 17 April, the super-popular talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey devoted her entire show to a discussion and demonstration of the instant-message social networking site. Afterward, traffic to Twitter shot up a whopping 43 percent, market tracker Hitwise reported.
Williams was also quizzed over whether Twitter could be a threat to mainstream journalism. “It’s not necessarily journalism in the classic case but it does allow people to report news and events as they are happening and often on the ground,” he said. “As we saw in Iran, people on the streets were reporting what was going on, it was newsworthy content that people were tweeting. But it doesn’t take the place of journalists or news because you still need analysis and verification but it adds another layer to the information ecosystem.”
The Twitter chief exec also explained how the decision had been taken to delay some maintenance work during the recent contested Iranian elections. “We did delay some technical work – we had some scheduled maintenance that would have been in the middle of the night for us but was at a key time for Iran so we ended up putting it off for a day,” he said.
Asked whether the US government asked for the delay or it was a decision taken by the company, Williams said: “There were many people who asked us to do that including someone from the State Department, but that is not why we did it. We did it because it was the best thing to do to support the information flow there at an important time – and that is what we are about.”