It's that time of year again, time for the Allen & Co's annual media industry confab in Sun Valley, Idaho. Occasionally described as a "summer camp for billionaires," the Herb Allen-hosted event is expected to atrract more than 250 media chiefs, tech moguls, financiers, Hollywood agents, and politicians, as well as the odd sports star or two. (LeBron James will be putting in an appearance this year.) Mostly, however, it will be populated by the sort of people who make it a point to show up every year, people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Barry Diller, Sumner Redstone, and Rupert Murdoch, all of whom will undoubtedly be photographed over the coming days taking part in one of the many leisure activities arranged for attendees, like rafting, yoga, chess, bridge (a particular fave of Buffett and Gates), and biking (see Diller, left).
Are you sick of Twitter yet? Probably! But if not, wait patiently because the spunky little messaging service is teaming with a group of Hollywood geniuses to bring you an "unscripted show" that would "harness Twitter to put players on the trail of celebrities in an interactive, competitive format." Yeah.
Twitter CEO Evan Williams always seems to be where the action is. He sold his blogging company to Google in 2003. He chased the short-lived podcasting craze with another startup. That company accidentally spawned Twitter, the microblogging service that's stolen the buzz from bloggers. It seems sensible that Williams would sell Twitter to Facebook, another social networking site that actually makes money. So why did he and his board turn down a $500 million offer from Facebook?Kara Swisher has typed up everything she knows on the deal. The short version: Facebook offered stock, Twitter wanted cash. Facebook wanted to use last year's ridiculous $15 billion valuation for its shares. The End. Williams always seems to know what's hot and what's not. Right now, his board is supporting his instincts: Build out Twitter's service before trying to make money from it, just as Google did for a few years. When the economy comes back, Twitter will be even bigger, and the offers even better — maybe even from Facebook.
Stubblicious Flickr developer Cal Henderson and his "fake wife," Pownce community liaison Ariel Waldman, were sharing a precious booth with their entourage at yet another overpacked Seesmic party. Here, Waldman tries to chat with Laughing Squid founder Scott Beale over the din. Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis and Twitter cofounder Evan Williams, probably fed up with the crowds, have ditched 330 Ritch for the Plista party at Fluid.
I feel sorry for Twitter founder Ev Williams. The self-appointed A-listers who've flocked to his service are building an echo chamber worse than the blogosphere circa 1999. Today's pretend crisis: Williams has set an arbitrary limit that allows most Twitter users to follow no more than 2,000 other users' updates. The hip response is to claim that of course you need way more than that. But seriously, why would anyone try to follow 3,000 Twits? I've summarized Williams's lengthy post explaining the "follow spam" problem. He left out the part where it costs you money:"Follow spam" is what happens when a Twitter user sets up an automated script to subscribe to thousands of individual users' feeds, found by crawling Twitter's pages. Follow-spammers aren't interested in reading all those people's updates. They're actually hoping their new pretend-friends will follow them back in exchange, creating an opt-in list for their messages. These may be marketing, or just personal drama. It seems like a victimless crime, but there are two problems caused by comment spam:
Twitter has bought Summize, a search engine which indexes Twitter messages. It's hard to imagine Summize going anywhere else. But this deal is not about "strategic fit" or any such nonsense. No, it's about how the cleverly lazy founders of Twitter have found a way around the biggest management headache of all: Hiring employees. Twitter's substantial downtime, and a subsequent blame game about whether former architect Blaine Cook was at fault, shows how often technological problems come down to people. We actually don't think Cook made bad technical decisions — but it's now pretty clear that he was more interested in moving on than staying at Twitter and arguing with founder Ev Williams about how to fix the site. At $15 million, Summize might actually be a cheaper solution than trying to hire a conventional replacement for Cook.
When his service is struggling with uptime at a high-profile event like Apple's WWDC, what does Twitter cofounder Evan Williams do? Take some personal downtime. He and wife Sara Morishige are vacationing from an undisclosed location — one that involves wakeboarding, tennis, chess, and dancing. While Williams relaxed, TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington went nuts. Again.
Last we heard about microblogging service Twitter's latest funding round, Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger told us — and, via Twitter, the world — that he was taking a lunch meeting at Twitter HQ. That was April 25. Despite rumors of an imminent deal, there's been no announcement. So why can't Wenger and his USV partner Fred Wilson close the deal? One theory: an unexpected bidding war over a service that grows more mainstream every day. A source familiar with this type of funding situation explains: "You know that thing about failure is an orphan, success has a million dads? VCs want to buy the right to say Twitter was theirs." And for this crowd, Twitter's downtime problems are a bonus.
Money isn't everything. Mark Zuckerberg may have the highest net worth among his generation of entrepreneurs, but the Facebook CEO only gets 21 out of 294 pages in Sarah Lacy's new Web 2.0 book, Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good. That's 16 more than his sister, nerd chanteuse Randi Jayne Zuckerberg, which tells us Lacy has her priorities all wrong. The Zuckerbergs' index page:
Twitter, the 140-characters at a time blogging service, was shaped by its founder's dry, understated sense of humor. The company, not to mention the service, seems to be a sort of Silicon Valley inside joke that, improbably, Ev Williams and his fellow Twitterers have managed to play on the rest of the world. For this, Sarah Lacy labels Williams a "nontrepreneur." Fittingly, Sarah Lacy gave his microcompany got a mere four pages in her new book, Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good:
Someone carefully let it be known today that Twitter cofounders Evan Williams and Biz Stone are looking for $15 million in venture-capital funding. We emailed existing Fred Wilson, a partner at Twitter investor Union Square Ventures, to ask if Twitter's been in touch, looking for a re-up. Wilson's unresponsive answer: "Yes, Union Square Ventures is an existing investor in Twitter." Lucky for us, Wilson's colleague Albert Wenger isn't nearly as discreet. He Twittered about his destination for lunch: Twitter headquarters.
Twitter, a communications tool for marketers, self-promoters and journalists, is trying to raise a third round of venture capital Silicon Alley Insider reports cofounders Evan Williams and Biz Stone are looking for $15 million, valuing the company at $60 million. Current investors include Union Square Ventures and Charles River Ventures. SAI guesses Stone and Williams have pitched Spark Capital, too. Twitter raised $5 million for a $20 million valuation last summer. The company still hasn't found a business model, mostly because users, by and large, view Twitter messages on cell phones or third-party desktop applications, not the Twitter.com website. We find this endless groping embarrassing. Twitter limits messages to 140 characters. Why not shorten it to 120 and slap "Sponsored by Coke" to the end of each message? That seems easier.
Twitter cofounder Biz Stone once said, "There will never be ads on Twitter.com." Note that Stone never said anything about Twitter.jp. News.com reports that Twitter has launched in Japan, with ads. "Ads are important," Twitter backer Joi Ito said. "It's always harder to add ads later. So we're launching with them in Japan." What a tiresome PR game: Are ads any less important in the U.S.? If Stone wants to add them to Twitter.com, he and cofounder Evan Williams should go ahead. The ads in Japan actually link to the advertiser's Twitter feed. WIth that kind of arrangement, Robert Scoble and Jason Calacanis will surely sign up as charter sponsors.