Al Jazeera Unplugged: Robin Sloan of Twitter

Robin Sloan works for Twitter with their media partnerships. He started off with a few statistics.

  • Twitter has 105m users worldwide.
  • 30% of users are mobile.
  • Growing faster internationally than in the US.
  • 1bn SMS per day.
  • 60m tweets a day.

Robin said that inventors don’t always understand why their inventions work or how people use it. However, they do believe that there are some reasons why it does work.

We think that Twitter works because it’s an information network not a social network.

Many people are using it for ‘one-way’ relationships, such as following news organisations or TV shows. It is much like a traditional broadcast network.

They believe that Twitter works because there is “less friction”. They believe that this allows people to use Twitter in moments when they are waiting, interstitial time. What if news presented itself with no friction, without entering “news mode”. To read The New York Times or watch Al Jazeera, you have to enter this headspace, this focus, “news mode”. What happens if you could get information without entering “news mode”?

We just figured out websites, but he said: “Am I saying that news websites have too much information? Yes.” I think this is about presenting information in the flow of life without friction. This reminds me a lot like TV. In some ways, this becomes the new programme guide. They don’t look at the EPG; they look at Twitter.

Google just released Google TV this week. TV is still the world’s biggest medium. It has an audience of 4bn people. Google want to change the operating system of TV. Twitter and TV, these things really do go together.

How does this argument mean for news? How can you present information in context, in the interstitial moments in people’s lives. How can you make consuming news ridiculously simple? How can you present pure information, pure message? Real-time information happens when that friction approaches zero. This is the challenge. As a platform, as a medium, TV is behind in some ways. It’s ahead in many ways, TV needs no interface.

At Twitter, we still think that it’s way too complicated. There is too much friction.