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Twitter COO Adam Bain on Jack Dorsey and Super-Sized Tweets (Q&A)

Twitter is effectively expanding its role as a publisher by hosting more content on its own service.

Asa Mathat
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says he wants to expand the size of tweets because users are doing that anyway by adding screenshots of stories and other workarounds.

That makes sense. But it seems to me that Twitter is also effectively expanding its role as a publisher by hosting more content on its own service. Which follows a general trend we’ve seen in the last year from Facebook, Snapchat, Apple and Google.

I ran that theory by Twitter COO Adam Bain, who is both pleasant and savvy, so he won’t ever get pinned down saying anything declarative on the record. But he didn’t seem to think it was wrong. He did say, however, that the expanded tweets are very much a Jack Dorsey project.

I met Bain in Las Vegas at CES, where Twitter and other big media companies (even ones that don’t want to say they’re a media company) head to link up with advertisers. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview:

Peter Kafka: Did you expect the hubbub about the new, super-sized tweets? Or do you figure that’s par for the course with any change at Twitter?

Adam Bain: I’m very used to the idea that if we touch any part of Twitter, that people will complain.

I saw a story that said Twitter stock moved down after our story came out.

I won’t comment on the stock.

You’re too smart for that. Was this an idea that you guys have wanted to do for a long time, or was this something that Jack Dorsey brought with him when he came back?

Jack has been helping the product team work through a number of our product initiatives for 2016. There are a number of really interesting things that are teed up. All of them revolve around making the product more interesting to use, reduce a bunch of friction in the product as well. Both for current users and for first-time users.

But was this something where he showed up last summer and said “let’s do this,” or was it in the works before that?

I think Jack’s best description of his role is that he’s an editor of the product. So he’s helping take ideas that are flowing through the product team, and in the way that great editors do, help those ideas either find life, and find investment —

(Interrupting) Is this an example of something that happened because Jack is in charge?

Yeah. There are a number of things on the product side that Jack brought a crystalized focus to, and a bunch of pace and rhythm on the product side. These things are not easy to build in general.

The super-sized tweets seem like a way to bring more content onto your platform. Or to put it another way, this seems like you’re going to be hosting articles. Do you look at it that way?

It’s an interesting way to look at it. We certainly have been helping content companies today bring video content closer to consumers. We do that in a win-win way. Jack said it best in his tweet: There is a set of content that people already today are snapshotting and putting on Twitter. None of those snapshots of text are searchable, categorizable, indexable.

For a long time when you guys went out to publishers and TV networks, you told them that you wanted to create more exposure for their content and ultimately increase their traffic or ratings by driving users to their properties. Has Twitter’s mindset changed?

We’ve built a great win-win relationship with publishers. We have a win-win in terms of driving audience — not just digitally but also offline audience. And it’s a relationship that yields revenue together, and I think that’s unique.

But you used to say that fundamentally, you were going to move audiences back to the thing that the media companies owned.

We do that today.

Do you see that push diminishing? It’s more and more common for tech platforms to host content themselves — Facebook, Snapchat, Apple.

I think ultimately what the publishers care about is control, audience and monetization. And it’s been consistent — everything we do on the platform has been along those three lines: How do we give them as much control as we possibly can, how do we give them as much audience as we possibly can, how do we generate revenue together in a way that gives them as much revenue as we possibly can. Nothing that we have planned in 2016 deviates from that at all.

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