Stephen Colbert Interviews Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone [Video And Transcript]

By Amit Chowdhry ● Apr 3, 2009

Colbert: My guest tonight is the co-founder of Twitter. I’ll ask him every mundane detail about every moment of his life. PLEASE WELCOME BIZ STONE!
*Audience cheers*
Colbert: Thank you very much!
Stone: Thank you!
Colbert: That’s how I communicate
Stone: Impressive.
Colbert: Well, thank you so much for joining us. You are the co-founder of Twitter. What does it feel like to be one of the preeminent twits in the United States?
Stone: It feels good, it feels powerful.
Colbert: Really?
Stone: Yeah.
Colbert: Yeah.
Stone: Yeah.
Colbert: Why did you decide to create Twitter? Did it just come to you in a flash? Or was it years of figuring out how to say less?
Stone: Twitter was a side project from another company that we got a little bored working at.
Colbert: What was the other company.
Stone: The other company was a podcasting company.
Colbert: A podcasting company?
Stone: Audio on the Internet. We actually didn’t use our own product which was a clue that we shouldn’t be doing that so we started focusing on this other idea of what if you could take this simple little messages like you have in an away message on an instant message application like AIM and turn it into a whole service and connect it to mobile texting such that it was available everywhere… Totally ubiquitous. And that seemed compelling enough to work on it.
Colbert: Why 140 characters? Was texting too complex? I mean why?
Stone: The limit on texts is 160 characters. We wanted to reserve a little bit of room for a username and so we made it 140 and standardized there… and you’d be surprised by the creativity *laughs*
*Camera cuts to Colbert playing on his iPhone and just mumbling “mmhmm”*
Stone: It’s important to get that down.
Colbert: I’m sorry, what? I’m sorry this isn’t rude, is it?
Stone: No, no, no.
Colbert: Okay, let me just write that down, I don’t think it is. “This isn’t rude. This is the future.” Okay.
*Colbert tweeting message to on iPhone*
Colbert: What was the very first tweet? I mean we know what the first Transatlantic Morris code signal was. It was like “what hath God wrought?” What was yours? Was it “what hath God Twot?”
*Audience and Biz Stone laughs*
Stone: It was something very simple. Like “inviting my co-workers to try this.” Unfortunately not as quite as…
Colbert: That’s it?
Stone: Its simple, Steven. It’s a simple, easy, tiny…
Colbert: But why do you think people find it appealing? Because why not just talk to the person next to you and make a new connection with someone?
Stone: That is something that people on Twitter do a lot. They have things called tweetups or they like to meet up in person with other people who are on Twitter. Twitter provides a new way of messaging. Its really the messaging service we didn’t know we needed until we had it. You send out 140 character bursts of information to anyone who wants to receive it. They receive it in real-time and then that’s when some of the magic happens.
Colbert: Wait its the what? Its the what?
Stone: Its the messaging service we didn’t know we needed until we had it.
Colbert: That sounds like the answer to a problem that we didn’t have until I invented the answer.
Stone: Which you do often!
Colbert: That’s like bad news, I’ve given you cancer. Good news, I have the only cure for cancer.
Stone: Hey listen, when they invented the telegraph people said if its good enough to send, it’s worth sending on a horse. When they invented the…
Colbert: You know what I say, if its good enough to scratch it into clay with a reed and let it dry in the sun, that’s good enough for me. What’s good enough for Hammurabi is good enough for me maybe.
Stone: No we got to keep pushing. We got to keep pushing.
Colbert: How can you go further? How could you reduce this even more? Have you been on… I’ve been on Twitter, have you been on nothing?
*Stone and audience laughs*
Colbert: It’s so intuitive. The user interface. It’s like it does itself. It sends messages to people, lets you know where you are while you do nothing.
Stone: There are services like that. But I think 140 characters of text is actually a lot more than you think it is and creativity is definitely inspired by that constraint.
Colbert: You say that its “more than I think it is?” Because I think its about 110.
Stone: Don’t forget, we include spaces.
Colbert: So a space is also a character?
Stone: Yes.
Colbert: You are ripping people off! Well speaking of ripping people off. Does Twitter charge anything?
Stone: Its totally free.
Colbert: So I assume that “Biz” in Biz Stone does not stand for “business model.”
Stone: No it doesn’t.
Colbert: By the way Biz Stone sounds like you are a character in The Flintstones.
*Stone laughs*
Stone: If I have a son, I should name him Flint.
Colbert: That would be nice. So how would you make money? Are you going to make off of this?
Stone: Yes we are.
Colbert: How, how are you going to do it?
Stone: We are going to become a strong, profitable, independent company. We’re going to continue to stay based in San Francisco. What we’re doing now is we’re recognizing…
Colbert: You and
*Audience laughs, Stone looks irritated*
Stone: We’re recognizing a difference right now between profit and value and we’re building value right now.
Colbert: What’s the difference between profit and value?
Stone: Well right now we’re building on value that means extending the service worldwide globally so that more people will have access to this real-time network. Not just on the Internet. There are over 4 billion mobile phones. When we network them together its very transformative especially when you realize it works over both texting and the web. As we grow that network, it becomes more valuable. As we add features to it, as we make it more robust… When we get to a certain point that we felt we’ve gotten there. We’ll begin experimenting with a revenue model. This is not unlike the way that Google approached their revenue model.
Colbert: How long is that?
Stone: How long is what?
Colbert: Before you experiment with a revenue model.
Stone: We’re going to start experimenting this year. But we don’t have to hit a home run right away. We have patient investors, we have time to work it out. We’re going to be exploring and experimenting starting this year and we have time to figure out what the perfect revenue model is.
Colbert: Why do you think so many Congress people Twitter?
Stone: Thats an interesting question. I think…
Colbert: Thank you.
Stone: You’re welcome.
Colbert: For that matter, why so many celebrities?
Stone: I think the Congressmen and the celebrities are similar cases. I think there’s two reasons why there are Twittering. One, I think a lot of celebrities… not all of them … some of them find a deeper connection with fans, especially Shaquille O’Neal. He’s amazing at this.
Colbert: Shaquille’s got half a million people following his twits.
Stone: Yeah that’s amazing. So he feels a deeper connection. Other celebrities like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher… I think that the appeal there is not only are they connecting with fans… but they’re controlling their messaging. Tabloids aren’t. So they can now say this is what I’m up to and you can report on that if you want to.
Colbert: Sorry I’m just going to take a quick picture of you to prove that I’m actually tweeting right now.
Stone: Twitpic, just like the plane that landed on the Hudson.
Colbert: Is that what crashed that plane?
*Audience and Stone laughs*
Colbert: Biz Stone! Thank you so much for joining us.
Stone: Thank you very much.
Colbert: Biz Stone, you’ve heard about it. Its Twitter! We’ll be right back.