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Twitter co-founder Ev Williams: “You’re selling attention”

The Sunday Times’ tech correspondent Danny Fortson brings on Ev Williams, chief executive of online publisher Medium and Twitter co-founder, to talk about upping Twitter’s character limit, the dark side of the Internet, the idea behind Medium, and the problems and opportunities in the ad-tech and journalism of tomorrow.

Updated on March 11
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Key Smash Notes In This Episode

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According to Ev Williams, the founder of Blogger and Twitter, the Internet now is much more reflective of the real world than the internet 20 years ago, when he was getting started. Now, the internet actually has all the people of the world.

When things were small, they were manageable. The bad actors did not get the momentum to share their ideas. The networks were also less connected and lest immediate so there wasn't a potential for abuse. The internet 20 years ago did not have the impact on what people read and believed in, how they voted.

Now that everything is so intertwined, there are all these new problems to be solved.

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No. In the world of publishing, there are no absolutes, but in general there will be free content focused on mass distribution, with low cost production powered by advertising, and then there will be higher production value, higher costs content which will need to be paid for by consumer support.

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People will pay for things, and they demonstrate that in all kinds of markets, media and otherwise, people pay for higher quality content. People pay for convenience, people pay for identity...etc.

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Clicks and view counts on the internet measure attention, but they cannot measure the value of content to the person consuming it. Worthless clickbait might appear more valuable than an article worth your full attention.

To fix this, Medium introduced a "clap," a variable measure of value that signals not just desire, but the level of value a piece of content delivers to its reader. It's the source of data that was not possible to get anywhere else.

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On one hand, we have ad driven systems, like Facebook, Google Twitter ...etc. The ads displayed on those systems are paying for the systems that provide service for the people. In this case, the companies are selling the services, and funding them via the ads. These ads are okay.

On the other hand though, we have ad-driven content. This content is driven by profit directly from the people clicking on those headlines. The catchier the content, the more money they make. [Fake news is driven by the latter]

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Brands used to buy ads in relation to the content in which their ads were shown. Now they are simply placing a purchase order for eyeballs, regardless of where those ads show up.

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