MONTREAL - Twitter co-founder Christopher Isaac "Biz" Stone has a message for those followers who stare at the stream of tweets on the social networking site for hours on end — don't do it.
"To me, that sounds unhealthy," Stone told a Montreal business luncheon, recounting how some people have said they're so engaged, they'll log onto Twitter for 12 hours straight.
"I like the kind of engagement where you go to the website and you leave because you've found what you are looking for or you found something very interesting and you learned something.
"I think that's a much healthier engagement. Obviously, we want you to come frequently."
Stone, who stood out in a casual black shirt and jeans in the sea of corporate suits and ties, waxed about his philosophy of business in a speech that vastly exceeded the 140-character limit of a Twitter posting.
He said even he's amazed at the reach of the website, which he says he and his partner Evan Williams figured would never be useful for more than fun.
"Nobody thought it was a good idea," Stone recalled of Twitter's early days. The biggest critique of Twitter was Twitter was not useful.
"And I distinctly remember my colleague Evan Williams saying, 'Well, neither is ice cream. Should we ban ice cream and all joy or can we have something that's just fun? What's wrong with that?' "
He said they then just focused on having fun and building the social media tool.
Stone said he started to realize its impact when he was attending a seminar at an Austin, Tx., conference in 2007 and suddenly big groups of people got up and left the room.
"It was as if the PA system had announced everyone should leave but there was no PA system," he said.
"What I realized was that people were using their mobile phones and laptops on Twitter to say that there was a much more intertesting lecture going on across the hall."
Then he saw around 800 people show up at an event at a bar — summoned by tweets from their friends. It looked to him, he said, like a flock of birds gathering around an object.
"I realized that there was no such technology in existence, previously or now, except for Twitter, that would allow people to behave instantly as one," he said.
He said he and his partner realized then they'd created something new and went back to San Francisco the next day to create Twitter Inc.
"And that was the beginning of what would be just a crazy ride."
The former Google employee noted that since then, Twitter has been used not only to record people's musings but to spur social change, such as when it was embraced by pro-democracy advocates in the Middle East's so-called Arab Spring.
But Stone said if Twitter is a success, it's because of its users, not just technology.
"Humanity moves forward with a little help from technology but it's really people that are bringing about the change," he said. "The Berlin Wall didn't come down because of telephones but telephones were involved in the process."
Twitter technology is merely about helping people to connect in real time and can help change the pace of events — but it's people who do the real work, he said.
Besides recapping Twitter's evolution, Stone's speech resembled a call to arms for entreprenuers.
He encouraged them to be socially involved and show empathy to others. He noted that creativity is an unending resource.
Stone also told them they should never be afraid to fail.
While he didn't really address the use of advertising on Twitter, he said it was useful for branding and for corporations to communicate with their customers.
He said, for instance, companies can use it in the event they make a mistake and say what they're doing to fix it.
"I think brands are using it to really build trust with consumers."
Stone said politicians are also using it to connect with constituents and get a better finger on the public pulse.
And, no, tweets will not be getting any longer than 140 characters, in case you were wondering.
Stone says the international limit on text messages is 160 characters and Twitter went with 140 to keep room in the messages for the username as well.
He said the creators also wanted the messages to be consumed in their entirety on the most basic technology. Besides, people are still able to post links that lead to longer posts, he noted.
"One of the wonderful things that's emerged is that there's a lot of creativity that comes from constraint."
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