Evan Williams is known for engineering some of the more popular consumer platforms today.
He founded Blogger, now owned by Google, co-founded Twitter, and more recently started Medium, a publishing platform that is free and open to anyone wanting to share their ideas.
But despite his deep knowledge in building Internet services that support hundreds of millions of users, he said yesterday at the Quartz Conference in Seattle that he sees companies less interested in achieving new feats of technology and more focused on creating appealing and easy-to-use experiences.
“What we are focused on now is much more than functionality, so design, experience and the aesthetics,” he said. “That’s not to say the core technologies are done, but even if connectivity and processing and hard technologies froze today, there would be a decade more of rapid innovation to build on top of of what we have today.” That’s especially true among social media companies, he said.
Williams, who continues to serve on Twitter’s board, appeared at the Quartz conference, which was discussing services and devices for “The Next Billion.” The entire interview can be streamed below.
One company that Williams said is an example of a “full-stack start-up” is Uber. He said the car-hailing application is not just building an enterprise-and-consumer focused app, but is also focused on business development, regulatory work and user experience. “Really what they do is creating a better experience from getting from here to the other side of town,” he said. “The value captured requires a little bit of software and a lot of other stuff.”
He said that’s also the case with Medium, which has the goal of helping professional and non-professional writers publish on the web — something he said has been possible for awhile now, but in less elegant ways.
“We looked at where the software was, and we looked at creation and consumption, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s there, in terms of design of the software, but also in terms of the value of connecting other people on the network,” he said.
The original blogging tools, which he helped to create, have been around for a decade or more, but they’ve become stale. “There was no collaboration or very little, and the state of publishing, as a whole, has only scratched the surface from moving beyond what’s on paper,” he said.
Getting good, informative content to people in a more efficient manner is where Williams perhaps gets a little philosophical, spouting off opinions and being idealistic about how we consume news today, including reading an unhealthy amount about international conflicts or natural disasters. He even said research shows “it does bad things to our brain.”
“I read some news, and I think everyone should read some news, but I think we consume news out of habit, and we consume news because our brains are wired to want to know what has changed in the world,” he said.
Williams said we have to be picky about what we read and watch because there’s so much content being created. “There’s more media than we’ll ever be able to consume, so how do you decide what that is? There’s all these great ideas and philosophies that have been written, reported and shared, and news about some distant and foreign event — in the vast majority of cases — can’t be more important.”
But he’s practical, too, acknowledging that even though people should eat more vegetables, they not always do. “I’m talking idealistically, so I think if we make stories that are more compelling, we can shift some people’s attention,” he said.