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March 16, 2020 69 mins

Ev Williams is the entrepreneur behind Twitter, Blogger, and publishing platform Medium -- three companies that helped shape the modern Internet. As we grapple with the impact of Coronavirus, these digital platforms are playing an even larger role in our ability to connect with one another. Ev weighs in on how all our lives could change in the short term and what the longer term future may hold for technology and media…

Will Augmented Reality project images onto our eyeballs? Will Silicon Valley ever move beyond the attention span economy? Will our lives start to resemble more of a video game than real-life? There's a lot to explore. And no one better than Ev Williams to help make sense of it all.


Show Notes

Laurie and Ev’s first contact

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a book from Ev’s childhood

Full Episode Transcript

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
First Contact with Lori Siegel is a production of Dot
Dot Dot Media and I Heart Radio. Hey guys, I
want to do something a little bit different for this
episode of First Contact. About two and a half weeks ago,

I interviewed Ev Williams, who founded Twitter and medium and blogger,
and I had asked him, you know, about the coronavirus
and his thoughts on it, and two and a half
weeks ago, I would say, here in the United States,
everything looked very, very, very different. And so this episode,

as we release it, I wanted to talk to him
again and ask his thoughts on it now, because you know,
this is such an extraordinary moment, and I would say
that a lot of us are grappling with what does
this virus mean for us? What does it mean for
our families and our parents and our lost ones, And
a lot of us are beginning to self isolate, to

go home and spend a lot of our lives digitally.
And I think there's extraordinary power, uh, and what's about
to happen in our relationship with technology and this fear
during this moment, And so I wanted to chat a
little bit with E about that and light of everything
that's happened, uh, and to give you a little bit
of a sense of where I'm at out of precaution,

I am uh self isolating and understanding the power of
digital and digital connection and really trying to grapple with
what it's going to mean to be human and this
era where there's so much fear and we are relying
on our digital connections. So bear with me for the sound.

How we're gonna do this is I decided to go
back and interview, and but it's a phone call and
I had to take it from home. So bear with
us for the sound, and we're going to play that interview,
and then once we play that, it's only fifth minutes,
We're going to get to the main interview where you
can hear about the future of media and just thinking
behind this is this is a future facing conversation and

what's occurred in just the last week here in the
United States is I think game changing for the future
and what it means for all of us. So take
a listen, and we will have the other part of
the interview right after this phone call. All right, okay,
here we go. All right, Sorry, as I'm sitting here

self isolated, uh, in my in my New York apartment. Um,
you know, everything feels really different now. And I had
asked you at the time two and a half weeks ago,
like how worried about coronavirus? Are you? You said something
like ten pers sont worried. And by the way, I
was kind of with you because I don't think any
of us thought what was going to happen was gonna happen.

So I wanted to give you before like we played
the episode for folks and all that kind of stuff,
because so much has happened in the two and a
half weeks that we set across from each other. And
by the way, we would not be sitting across from
each other now, um where remote given the state of things,
like how how are you feeling about it now? Very different?

And I mean, I think it's it's an understating place
so much as appendant in althletes because it feels like
it's really soon half days. Everything's changed, and I think everyone,
especially he's spent a lot of time on Twitter as
I have. I think it's spent more time on Twitter
in the last speak then in the last few months.
And that's just it's pretty terrifying. It's it's easy to

get completely swept up in the stories and the rhetoric,
and you know, there's a lot of noise, but I
think there's a lot of really valid concerning information coming out. Yeah,
how do you think I was thinking about this? Because
like I'm home, and I think increasingly we're all going

to be living the digital lives for the time being. Like,
by the way, it's so weird to be sitting here
talking just someone who created like you know, major companies
that shape the modern Internet, right, And I think we're
in this weird mode where like we're going to be
really relying fully on living in a digital state for

a little bit. Like when you created Twitter, you create
a blogger, you created medium, Like how is our relationships
the text and a change do you think in the
in the coming weeks maybe months? Um, I don't know.
I haven't had a gance to think about that. And
very I think it's some ways grateful and associative of

just the infrastructure we have now to deal with this,
and it's fairly recent and this wasn't even the things
like Twitter I think shines in moments like this and
that's great, but all the other infrastructure we have now
just the fact that many of us are anyway, I
have the broadband and the video compertin is actually work

and the things we need to do our jobs and
stay informed are there, and so it's feasible and actually,
for many companies, at least like mine, not that disruptive
all things considered. The most disruptive thing is is probably
for most people I know, is the kids being out
of school. It's that's the hardest thing about working at home.

But I think that being fully immersed in the digital
world and being further apart individually, and even not having
the opportunity to break from that, even if that's your
day to day job and then it's the evening time
and you don't have that opportunity to go out in
the world and connect with friends face to face or
go to restaurants or go to a show. I think

that's gonna be hard. Yeah, my whole career, I've I've
said a cross from people like you and questions like
a tech how do we maintain our humanity? I feel
like maybe it's quite a personal to me right now
because I'm setting yourself isolating, like and the only connection
I have now is like it's so weird. I'm literally

doing this interview with you or of taking a call.
I'm I mean did give you a sense I'm basically
like trying to make sure the sound is okay under
a sheet. Um, you know, like I literally did give
everyone a very authentic sense of like what this is
like as you talk about like the fear is like,
we're gonna live fully digitally to degree, how do you
think we can maintain our humanity during this time? Well,

I think the counter is that the pandemic affects us all.
Obviously affects some people worst than others, and they're not
at all in exactly the same boat. But it is
it brings out humanity, is what I'm trying to say
in a way where so I think it makes it

much clearer as any real real crisis. Those are any
threats that you know what is important, and people usually
come back to the same things about friends and family
and and carrying about your community. And so it's a
weird situation because you can see that, you can see
that online even though people aren't necessarily doing that physically.

At least, what I see and what I think about
is is the carrying and how do we how do
we help each other through this to that part of
our humanity? I think it will bring out. Yes, this
is I like, so, how are you going to do it?
How are you going to make sure? Well? I'm very

I feel very fortunate that I'm with my family right
now and with a couple of close friends and so
so we're hanging out together. So I think there's for me.
Just have a delightful conversation with me seven year old
and we're in the same place, So I'm glad I

didn't have talked to my seven year olds through video confidence.
But he's in great spirit so far because he's you know,
gets to skip school. And we had the spending conversation.
He actually asked me last night, if you had to die,
not of old age, how would you die? And it

was a pretty deep conversation. But with him and so
it doesn't get much more human. Yea, I know what
was I hopefully it wasn't. Please tell me it wasn't
coronaviruss No, it was definitely not getting sick. It was
sickness seems to be. And we went as as seven

year old boys will do. We went down some pretty
grusome wraps there after that, which I'll spare listening. Um.
It feels like we're all beginning to live in this
salon digital almost like experiments, as we all started isolating
in fear of the violence. I sat down you for
over an hour and we talked about the future of
media and your thoughts when we come out of this.

Do your thoughts change at all on the future of media?
Given what's this almost like digital experiment we're beginning to live.
Kind of looks like, does this change how you feel
about the future of media. I haven't really had time
to think about that deeply yet. Um, And I would
guess in the very long term no. But I think

what's very clear change instant to medium the last few
days is this crisis is sucks the air out of
everything else. It has our full attention, and I mean
that's that's having a dramatic effect on media right now. UM.

And how long that lasts is impossible to predict. I
think obviously thinks they're going to get worse. It could
be if we were just talking two and a half
more weeks, we would be in a completely different state. Um,
And it's gonna get gruesome. So certainly the short turned

impacts on media is it's hard to talk about anything else.
And then the longer term is if there's a likely
recession and how is that affect consumer spending? And therefore
they add business as well as description businesses. I expect
all that to have pretty big ramifications over the short term.
But that short term, I would, you know, is months

and years. Yeah, you know, I know that there could
be a panic, people's lives could be a risk. Will
just change the rules around social media and misinformation or
have you seen any changes that even in the last
week or so, or do you stance anything changing? Um,
I don't know. I've been just in my own efforts
to get information. Yeah, it's interestant because I've had curated

my Twitter followings well enough that I felt like I
was getting very high quality information. But then again, maybe
everyone feels like that. Because I would dip into I
would see some retweets and some comments via my timeline
on a whole different Twitter where there's some serious bs
being bandied about, and and I was like, wow, people

are still saying this, you know, it's like downplaying the
whole thing or having conspiracy theories. So that is definitely
out there, and bad actors will take advantage of heightened
stress and any opportunity to spread this information and this
is probably the biggest one of all times. Will that
lead to anything? I don't know. It's a leadership moment

for everyone, right like are you finding it's changing you
as a leader? How do you want to lead during
this time? The big thing for me focusing on the
company is just trying to help people feel some sense
of stability as we go through this. And there are
obviously going to be companies that are going to be

hit hard, going to have to layoffs, aren't going to
be able to get there next round of funding. And
I'm not really worried about any of that for us,
but there's it's gonna increase, you know, you see headlines
about that, and if you're in the startup, then you
want to ear it's my company in trouble. And so
I'm trying to create some sense of stability and also

just trying to rally people. And everyone wants to do
positive things, and so what we see a medium is
like there's a lot of good information on medium. So
someone had the idea, Hey, what if we made everything
around coronavirus that we have control over, we put it mixture,

it's outside the payball, and so people don't feel like,
you know, they're being charged for for what can be
important information, and so looking at those opportunities to actually
to be of service and not opportunistic, but actually like, oh,
if there's roles we can play, and we feel fortunate
that we're I mean, this is why we exist to
help people get access to get information and good ideas

as well as express things and connect with other people.
And so so we feel like we can be relevant
and encouraging people to come up with those ideas, act
on those ideas, change plans that maybe you know, our
longer term plans don't change. But I think that helps
both Its simply helps other people, but also helps helps

the team. You know, really feel like not be totally
overwhelmed and distracted by the bad news. If you feel
like you can help something, right, are you afraid? I'm
I'm not. That's tread much for me and my family,
but for the yeah, for the world, for sure, and
for all that. And there's definitely going to be a

lot of people are really sick. And everything I read
and talk to doctors by now so weird. Our healthcare
systems are definitely not preferred. Um, yeah, that's score. All right, Well,
thank you for doing this. I appreciate it, and stay healthy,
wash your hands. Ut all right, thanks for So that's

it for that portion of the interview. Now, this is
a portion of the interview we taped about two and
a half weeks ago. What do you think communication looks
like in fifty years? Wow, fifty years. I tend to
think that things get more extreme. I think a lot
of the sci fi visions of people being totally jacked

into the matrix, whether it's VR or more likely A
are augmented reality. Like the fact that we'll have heads
up displays and classes that project information into our eyeballs.
I think that will totally be true. And do you
think with augmented layers we're all just going to be
in like a giant video game of sorts. Yeah. Basically,

I want to start by taking you back. It's the
middle of winter and I'm meeting up with one of
the founders of Twitter, Ev Williams. It's been six years
since I last interviewed him. His chosen spot a bookstore
in downtown New York. Now, I remember thinking at the time,
this guy founded three major tech companies Blogger, Twitter, and

now Medium a publishing platform, and he wants to meet
up somewhere surrounded by books, books which have almost become
like ancient artifacts because of the digital world that he
helped create. But when you get to know ev, you'll
understand that words, thoughts, and the sharing of ideas are
in his d NA. Knowing him a bit better now,

I couldn't think of a better place for us to
talk about the future of technology. I've Intervie you'd have
many times over the years, and of the Silicon Valley
CEOs I've spoken to. He's one of the more curious
founders I've met, where other founders like to talk. You
see him listening. He's quiet and he sits back, but

knows how to read a room. And most importantly, he
has a proven track record of creating communication tools that
fundamentally change the way we speak to one another. So
pay attention to what he says about the future of media.
There's a lot to sift through. Will augmented images be
projected into our eyeballs? Will Silicon Valley ever moved beyond

the attention economy? Will the future of media look like
an all encompassing video game, and why is it that
someone who has experienced insurmountable success is still so afraid
to fail. There's a lot to explore, and no one
better than Ev Williams to help us make sense of
it all. I'm Laurie Siegel and this is First Contact

of You're the founder and CEO of Medium. Also, you
were Twitter CEO for several years and Twitter came out
of Odeo, which was a podcasting platform, so you were
way ahead of your time. And before that, you created Blogger,
which pretty much revolutionized blogging online, wouldn't you say, as
opposed to the blogging offline we were all doing. Moving on, Well,

this show is called First Contact, and I was super
excited about this because I did some digging for our
first contact. Do you remember our first contact? Yeah, it
was ten years ago and you were the CEO of
Twitter at the time. Okay, so I found a photo
there it is Oh yeah, yep, yeah. I wish our

listeners could see that. But that was ten years ago.
And I well, because I think I was interviewing you.
It was March and I was interviewing you. I was
actually um a production assistant at the time, pretending to
be a producer, but interviewing you as the CEO of Twitter,
so much has happened in ten years. I would say,

we talk a lot about kind of beginnings here. I
want to go back to Nebraska, where you're from, and
talk about how you got into all of this. So
I watched a commencement speech that you did, and you
were talking about this giant idea sharing machine that you

were into, the thing you've kind of always been obsessed with.
And that's something about like opening up the second edition
of Wired magazine and just like falling in love with
this idea of connecting our brains? What about it was
so interesting to you? And don't give me this like, uh,
you know, like large answer, like because like I you know,
I just hate when founders do that, when they're like, oh,
I just really wanted to connect the world. Like that

seems so broad. Like you were this guy in Nebraska,
like and you opened up the second edition of Wired
and you were just like hooked in some capacity. What
was it? So you don't want a large answer? Can
I give a medium manager? Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's a joke. Um.
I think I was captivated by the notion of getting

out of where I was because I was from this
very small rural place and pre internet growing up, and
I never traveled, and I just was itching to see
the world, but not in a traveling sense necessarily, but
just to kind of break out of there. And so
the idea of getting access to the world and ideas

through this little box on our desks as it was
at the time was super compelling. And it wasn't I
wouldn't claim it was altruistic of connecting the world. It
was just the idea of being connected. And it was
more from a idea of knowledge perspective than a social perspective.
I wasn't necessarily looking to make friends. But do you

have friends growing up? Yeah? I mean, wasn't Were you
kind of like a lonely kid or was it? I mean,
was it kind of a form of connection. I was lonely,
but I wasn't a loner. I was social. There just
were very few people, and uh so I think I
was spending a ton of time alone. And by this

time I had gone off to college actually, and then
I had quit, but I was looking. I was still
having that feeling of there's more out there in the world.
Like my cousin at a cousin from Kansas City, which
was the big city, and he came and visit us
on the farm one time and he gave me this book,
Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Do you know that book? It's like

a children's books, a fable, and it's about the seagull
who is different and he wants to to break away
from his flock, and basically, and my cousin wrote a
note in in the book saying something about regarding that
that he saw that in me, and that I could,
you know, get out of there or you know, is okay.

And so I think it was that yearning to be
in a different place than I was and more connected
to the greater world that really compelled me. I am.
I think for me, so growing up for me, like
I was the only Jewish girl to very Christian conservative
southern school and had parents that were divorced, and I
think for me, I because of that, for some reason,

I always felt like a little bit of an outsider,
and so I always liked outsider stories. And that's why
I went to go on to do what I did,
I think, which is tell outsider stories, which you could argue,
you guys are now all insiders in some kind of way.
You guys are all very powerful now, But um, I
don't know who you guys is, but I still feel
like about outsider for sure, So I guess, I guess

I I ask you that, um to a degree, Like
when you say you're talking about this book, you're talking
about this idea of like doing something big or being different.
Where do you think specifically that came from. I don't
know whether it was was something I was born with
or just I mean, there's all kinds of narratives that

I could imagine in wanting to to do something important
growing up in a place where I didn't feel important.
But as I got into it, it was. It was
compelling in its own right. Just technology in the Internet,
specifically in the early nineties I guess mid nineties and

then started blogger, was was just so interesting because of
you could sense the potential and not that I or
anyone saw the future and detail, but you there was
the talk about it at the time about connecting the
world and sharing ideas and information at our fingertips and
all the media ever produced being you know, accessible, and

all that is true now and we take it for granted.
And that was such a like it's a transformative thing.
And the way I look at it now is is
that there's so much that we take for granted that
has emerged over the last twenty years, and all kinds
of it is broken, and is it good or bad?
And and there's there's problems that come with it, and

I think it's all still very interesting because in twenty
years we've completely changed how humans get their information and
how they communicate with each other, and of course it's broken,
and of course we still have to work on and
make it better. And so while a lot of the
novelty has gone away and a lot of the painful

reality is has come up, there's still all these exciting
and really cool things that we don't even think about
now that I think you're still pretty cool. But back
then it was, oh my gosh, could this really actually
be true? I read that you kind of went west
and because you were looking at Silicon Valley, which you
thought was just like Geniuses, just Baywatch and like something else.

But like, I know that's going to come back to
haunt you now that I've said it. It was like
Baywatch Geniuses and something else was like Silicon Valley. How
did how did you feel when you first got there. Yeah,
that was my So when you're not from California, when
you're from the Midwest and you only know California from
TV and movies, it kind of all blurs together. So
you assume that surfing and the beach have something to

do with computers and and everything else. But ya, northern California.
I traveled to California for the first time when I
was twenty four, and I saw the ocean for the
first time when I was twenty that was on the
other coast. I went to Florida, but so everything was

new and I was nervous, but I did feel in California.
Uh Instantly. I noticed two things. One because there were
no bugs, like in the air. It was during the summer,
and it felt like a movie set. What did I
know of movie sets? But because I was in California,

that's what came to mind, because in the Midwest in
the summer, there's bugs. And I felt very strange and
and not real, but also felt very comfortable in that
because everyone there seemed like was from somewhere else, and
so that feeling of being an outsider was was lessened

because it was a community of outsiders. Those are the
two things I remember when I first out there, and
so we fast forward all these all these years later,
we talked about, like, you know, twenty years later and
this whole idea of this idea sharing machine that you
had in mind. UM, you connected the world and all
these different ways with Twitter, Medium, blogger. I know everyone

asks you now like how do you feel? How do
you feel about what's happened with Twitter? How do you
feel all this stuff? And I remember the headlines like
now Williams is going to fix the Internet and all
the stuff like but like behind the scenes, like when
you're sitting at the dinner table and when like you're
with your wife and kids, and like you think, like, whoa,
you really did create this incredible ecosystem for us to all,

you know, share information. How do you feel about it? Well,
the first thing, even hearing that, I feel uncomfortable like
saying that I did these things. I was part of something.
And I think the main thing that I feel is
incredibly grateful to be a part of UM, both Twitter

and the greater that the internet as it's um grown
and emerged over the last couple of decades, and to
be just at at the forefront of that and and
helping that along was just an incredible experience that yeah,
I feel lucky to have been a part of is
the main thing. And I don't spend a lot of

time lamenting choices we made or regret. I'm are focused
on what's new and interesting and what can we do next. Now.
Over the last six months, I've been living in New
York after spending twenty two years in San Francisco and
Silicon Valley. So mostly I just feel like there's new,

interesting stuff to explore. And I don't feel like because
I was a part of something. UM. I get questions
like do I regret things or what I've changed things?
And all that gets very complicated and nuanced. UM, and
I don't. UM. I don't know how to answer those questions.

You said something about make sure technology makes things easier,
But do you worry that things got a little bit
too easy? Yeah? Yeah, I think so. That something I
realized a few years ago, and Tim Wu has written
some great stuff on this, But I realized at one
point that the way to make something successful in technology

and probably most businesses, but at least technology enabled businesses,
was simply to make something easier. Something that a human wanted,
you make it easier. And that could be connection, it
could be in romance, it could mean status, it could
mean goods delivered, it could mean the answer to information.
And you you go through the list of major things

people want entertainment, and you look at the major tech companies,
and what they've mostly done is that this thing that
people have always wanted, we made substantially easier. And you
look at how the big tech companies have what they've
gotten really really good at And take Amazon and it's
one click and literally patenting the idea of buying something

with one click that was a major value creator. And
then the free shipping in prime so you didn't have
to think about it, and always having the lowest price
and having the best selection, and and Google, how they've
been obsessed with speed and low friction, and company after
company has has basically used technology to reduce friction and
make things sees here. So in many ways that's great.

And then obviously humans are humans, and they want things
that aren't always good for it. I think society as
a whole is kind of gone through this sugar binge
and now we're reeling in that and saying, oh, well,
like we shouldn't have allowed all that technology, or we
shouldn't have partaken that much. But I think we're figuring

out how to deal with that. How are we going
to deal with the fact that there is all this
stuff that's immediately available in its exploiting many based instincts
in the same way the junk food exploit space instincts,
and saying how do we deal with that? How do
our kids deal with that? How does society deal with that?
And how are people manipulating that, manipulating us in ways

we don't even know. We're going to take a quick
break to hear from our sponsors, but when we come back,
EV talks about clickbait, the worst offenders, and why medium
is different. Also, if you like what you're hearing, make
sure you hit subscribed to First Contact in your podcast
apps so you don't miss another episode. I I've read

from a blog post you because it was you said,
I was never a fan of RSS readers. Sometimes they've
made things easier to read, but I didn't like how
they took content out of context, especially from sites where
I like the design. But then you kind of went
on to create Twitter, which like it seems like it's
like everything is just like can be taken out of
context to a degree, right. I mean maybe that's a

that that doesn't make complete sense context. Yeah, but it
certainly seems like this moment has kind of lost a
little bit of context or something like. What do you
think is the solution to to some of to some
of our Internet's latest issues. I think context has a
tremendous amount to do with how people interpret information as
well as what they share. And I think what we're

focused on medium and doing is enabling thoughtful and meaningful
content to find its right audience and and find a
receptive audience. And what we're fighting against is the fact
that there is the way that that the content distribution
systems of the Internet have evolved over this some time

is for optimization of attention on the Internet. It's like
the goal is to distract you, and the reward is
if you actually capture enough attention cheaply enough and get
distract enough people, then you make money. And that's what
we rely on for our information. And so I think
it's it's it's systemic. It's not a matter of what

we need better publishers or we need better better systems
to control the bad stuff or we need to kill
miss information. It's much more fundamental, I think, in how
are there systems that allow people whether journalists, writers, um experts,
people who were sharing information and knowledge? Is the incentive

structure rewarding the right thing? I think for the most part,
it's not today. And so I mean I remember maybe
it was three years ago. I mean, you've been taking
you were kind of talking about this before people were
talking about this. I give this to you. You've been
obsessed with this. I mean it's like okay to talk
about this now, but when you started talking about this
that kind of wasn't okay to talk about as a

Silicon Valley leader. Like I will give you that, Like
you had stepped away from Twitter, but you're on the
board at the time. I don't think people fully understand this.
Like the first time you said this, like it was
kind of controversial, right, Like now everyone is like, oh,
the attention economy and like and you know, our attention
is not being and now this is like a whole
buzz verdan Silicon Valley. But like when you came out

and you were like, our attention is under attack, Like
I can imagine First of all, that got awkward in
the boardroom at Twitter because isn't that their business model?
Correct me if I'm wrong. Correct, Twitter does make its
money from advertising. So was that awkward? Um? Yes, and no.
But I mean maybe it gets complicated because then I,

um not, I'm not on the board of Twitter anymore.
But I do make a distinction between types of advertising
and the advertising and distribution systems such as Twitter and
Google and content advertising. But it gets a little a
little complicated, and so advertising, oh gosh, um, there's no

actual it would be too hard to name the worst offender.
I mean, we've all been across the web and seeing
these just terrible sites that are overloaded with ads in
the clickbait and there there's we can all recognize the
worst offenders when we see them. But I think about
what what's complicated about talking about this? In the Twitter case,
I don't think that's at all the worst offender, nor

is Google. There there's a defensible argument that that's the
best way to to fund a an information distribution system
because the content itself doesn't get promoted based on its advertising,
which is different than other systems where the content has
the advertising embedded in it. There's a time when television

was seemed to be trash and movies where the you know,
the only high form of video entertainment, and now that's
no longer true. What change to make that no longer true?
Was the best television stop being funded by advertising, and
then consumers got a much better value proposition, a much
better product via streaming and first of all HBO and

other premium channels, and now that's the norm. Music went
sit through the same thing. There's a time when music
was the whole music industry was going to be out
of business because of Napster, and then obviously for decades
there's commercial radio and now it's healthier than severbend, and
the consumer value proposition is amazing. For ten bucks a month,
you can get access to everything you've ever wanted in

these great playlists and discovery. So I think there is
reason to be optimistic that if you change the system
and what's rewarded, we can get to a much better solution.
So take me to to the reason behind building Medium
and what you found, because this is um this is
a reaction to a lot of the stuff we just
spoke about totally. So we I started Medium eight years ago.

So two thousand twelve, which was before certainly before a
lot of people were talking about advertising and before fake
news and fake news at the time, was was the
onion in the Daily Show. It was delightful. Um, so
I saw what happened with social media, which I thought
out of this whole interesting layer in real time information exchange,

speaking of Twitter specifically, and there was nothing like that
on the more on the bigger side, so to speak.
So Twitter people that exchange links, and then you click
off to a website and you read an article, and
often it wasn't yet optimized for mobile, and I had
all these ads in there, and it was kind of
and if you were publishing a website, then you go

to Twitter or search or email try to get someone
to come there, and if they came, they weren't They
probably weren't logged in. So if you wanted to comment
or something, just the systems didn't feel modern and they
didn't feel evolved, and they also didn't seem like again
that that the best stuff was floating to the top.
So the idea was, create a place where anyone can
write and publish and help the good stuff find, you know,

find audiences, and so That's what we created in two
thousand twelve and is still the case today. Medium anyone
can write on Medium, anyone can publish for free. It's
read by about a hundred forty million people a month.
Visit Medium, many of them log in and use the app.
Many of them are paid subscribers. It's all ad free,

and it ranges from the amateur storyteller, the individual who
wants to rant, to professional journalists and publications. So where
does medium fit in the modern media landscape? But someone
who sees kind of into the future and says like,
this is where I think media is going. Where do
you think it fits well? I think it's our aspiration
is to be the best place to publish and find quality,

thoughtful content on the Internet, and I think we can
achieve the best place to publish for the vast majority
of individuals and organizations because it's just way easier and
more efficient to publish your network and the same reason,
for the same reason that if you have a tweet
to share, you don't share anywhere but Twitter. If you

have a video, you might put it on your own
website depending on what your goal is. But if you
just want audience, you're probably gonna put on YouTube. So
we're trying to achieve the same thing as the default
in the best place to find your audience and to
build an audience, but without the downside of having to
monetize with only advertising and really where where a system?

And when you change the business model and you change
what's rewarded, then you create a space for quality and
thoughtfulness and help good stuff right to the top. So
we're not trying to get everyone to publish on Medium,
but we're trying to get those people who are really
trying to put stuff out there that is a value
and it's worth to put it on Medium and make
it the best place to find that stuff. And uh,

that's our goal. How's the subscription model been? I mean,
has it been difficult to get people to subscribe? Will
people pay for quality? I mean this is the question
of the internet, right like will people pay for quality? Control? People? Will?
I mean, we've been doing this subscription for we're entering
our our third year or just senat our third year,
and we've done three years, sorry, and it's gone very well.

And so the founders always say that, yes, what does
that actually mean? Um, well, we don't share a subscription number,
but most most people are are are surprised and what
we've learned so it's been super interesting because what we've
done is not just put up a paywall and charge money,
which a lot of publishers have done. And even three

years ago when we started that, the default assumption was
no one will pay on the Internet, or certainly no
one will pay for written word content. That's all free.
It's ubiquitous, there's too much of it. And on top
of that, Medium is mostly user generated content. It's an
open platform. Anyone can publish, and while we now have

an editorial team that that publishes some the vast majority
of what's on medium comes from individuals who can publish
outside the paywall or behind the paywall and get paid.
And so we we did something that that is very unusual,
which is with an open platform charge of subscription. And
so open platforms lend themselves to advertising business models. This

is YouTube, this is Twitter, this Facebook, this is everything,
because it's all about volume and quantity, and as the platform,
you gener only don't pay for content, and so advertising
tends to make very little per content, especially Internet content.
But but there's lots and lots of it, and the
quality doesn't matter if you're making money from advertising, because

people aren't paying for it. And for all those reasons,
advertising is a model that makes sense for for a platform,
whereas a publisher who wants to charge the subscription and
think of the New Yorker and the New York Times,
the and it's like, oh, it's all about quality and
brand and trust. And so what Medium has done is
what the biggest thing we've figured out is is how

to blend these two because we believe deeply in the
open model and that the idea that great ideas can
come from anywhere. And many of historically the best stories
on medium that have been surprising and unique and valuable
and interesting have come from places you would never expect.
And we have lots of famous people, when we have
professional journalists, and we have all kinds of people publish

on medium, but time after time, the thing that comes
out of nowhere and blows people is because it's open
and free and anyone can publish. And so we hold
that dear, and we hold the fact that people should
pay for quality and we should reward quality, and that lenses.
So what we've done is blend those models, and we
do a lot of work to curate the best of medium,

help make sure that people are seeing both what's interesting
to them and what's actually good. And when we do that,
what we find is people happily pay. Do you worry that,
especially now that good information is is harder and harder
to get? I mean, do you think it's we're going
to have this most like junk food epidemic for information

where like you're going to pay only the people who
can afford it are going to be able to have
good information. And then and so when your kids grew up,
if they grew up wealthy, they'll be able to have
good premium information. And then if not, they're going to
have like the bad information of like the you know,
look in the dumpster of the internet. And then we're
just going to create a world of haves and have not's. Like,

do you worry about that? It's a good question. I
think we need to think about that a bit more.
I think in the near term we won't have that
because one of the one of the nice things about
the model like Medium has, which same as The New
York Times has, is the people who are willing and
able to pay actually for subsidizing it. It's not a
hard paywall. What happens is it's actually a little bit

of a It's it's good for everyone in the sense
that the few people who pay for Medium enable hundred
plus million people to read Medium and not pay. I
think that can continue. I don't know if that will
always be the model, but what that allows is then
because certain people are paying in, some authors and publications

can do very well in a subscription model who couldn't
even survive in an advertising model because different types of contents,
not just that it's paid for differently, it's different types
of content will work better and advertising model versus a
subscription model. And one of the things that's been really
informative as we've been building this is engagement and value

are not the same thing. And if you build an
advertising based platform, what you learn and what Silicon Valley
engineers obsessed on all day long is how to increase engagement.
And engagement is measured in all kinds of ways, and
everything is measured, and it's all about making the charts
go up. And it's like if we move this button,
or if we change the density of the listings, or

if we do this that, if we send more notifications,
will people spend more time, and so you have these
charts and you try to make the charts go up.
And in an advertising business, those charts are very tightly
correlated with how much money the business makes because what
you're selling is that attention. So it's all about capturing
more and more attention. With a subscription business, so a medium,

we have all those charts as well, and you know,
we're very familiar with that model. And what we notice
is those things you can measure do not necessary correlate
with the business. They don't necessarily correlate with subscription because
what we're asking people to do is make an evaluation
of is this worth my time? Not just worth my time,
but am I willing to pay for this? Do I

feel good about that time I spent? And there's no
way to actually measure how much value someone is getting
except if they're paying for it. And so what we
found is there are certain types of content that will
be consumed and people are less likely to pay, and
there's other content that that may be consumed in less numbers,

but those people are very happy. And we can all
imagine things that maybe not be wildly popular, but we
feel really good about consuming, or we get a lot
of value out of personally, and that is worth something
to us. So that's a roundabout way of saying, by
building these subscription models, or this model in particular, we
can enable things to exist that are extremely valuable and

for a lot of people, they will be free, and
they'll because they'll be subsidized by the people that valuable
to and the writers who are writing them are going
to be able to get paid in a way that
they would have never been able to in an advertising model,
and they're going to reach an audience they would have
never been able to say in a book model, because
they're still open and free out on the Internet. We're

going to take a quick break. But when we come back,
almost ten years after leaving Twitter, v explains why it's
still difficult for him to talk about exiting the company
he founded. And if you have questions about the show, comments,
really anything, you can text me on my new community
number three four zero. Um, it's been a year since

you've left Twitter's board and you were there for twelve years,
and I think leaving any job, and I mean you
weren't day to day, but I know you you created
this company. Um, what was the hardest part of like
completely stepping away. Um, well, it was very hard to
do that. Um It's something I thought about doing for years.

And Twitter is a very large part of my life,
my identity. Like I said, of feel very lucky to
have been a part of it. I also stayed on
the board because I wanted to be helpful, and I
felt an obligation to be to be helpful. And I
don't know if I was, but I tried my best
to bring conversations and participating conversations that that were brought

to the board or that I thought we needed to
have on the board, and that ranged from how to
be helpful to the business to how to help make
sure we do the right thing. And there's a point
where I felt like, for the time I was spending,
I could be more helpful doing other things, And so
that was sort of my equation. The other reason I

like being on the board for a long time. It
was tremendously educational for me to see as a as
a student and a builder of businesses, to see a
company go from from zero to a public company worth
billions of dollars and now with thousands of employees, and
seeing the issues that came up and seeing the different
rounds of management and leadership and how they handled the many,

many challenges that were extremely complex. Was even if I
didn't feel I was always being helpful, I was always
actually learning a great deal. And so I started to
see decrease in returns just because the company had been
the size it was in public for a while, and
so that's why I got off to board. As far
as the most difficult part, I think it was just
giving up that part of my identity. Although I realized

you can't unfound something, so it's still it still is.
I mean, the main people. If if people don't know me,
it's like I don't usually volunteer that information, but other
someone else will say I co founded Twitter. So the
identity hasn't really changed that much. But I felt like,
am I making a mistake? Should I? Or it was
probably the obligation part. I still also care about the

company and so many people there that's like, am I
It's like I'm quitting them, It's like I'm breaking up
with them. I had sort of that feeling like I'm like,
I shouldn't do that, and I owed so much to
the company that I should just stay as long as possible,
but I got over that was there like a point
that you were like, it's just time to go. Um,

it was the beginning of last year, so yeah, year ago.
I often just try to assess life over the holiday
break and say like what do I want going forward?
So it was it was right after after that that
I I think it was after that that I that
I told um o Meat and Jack. It is funny though,

I think identity is a really big thing for tech founders,
and and because startups are like children to a degree
and totally new and you live and breathe them. I
think that people don't talk about to get to where
you're at and the seat where you're at where you
can just casually talk about a lot of these things.
It comes with an extraordinary amount of um resilience and

a lot of these down times that that we don't
really talk about. Everyone has failings and their jobs, Everyone
goes through things. But how did you? Because I think
we can talk about it now that you're you know,
we just talked about medium and um, how did you
move on? How does one move on? Um? It's still
not that easy to talk about. But time is a

big thing. It's been a decade almost it'll be a
decade this year since I left, and you know, hopefully
I've grown in that time and uh scotten distance. And
I also I just see it much more balanced now.
I've learned a lot about people and politics and relationships,

and I can own a lot of the For a
long time, it just felt like this grave injustice and betrayal.
And now I look at it more neutrally and say, like, Okay,
I can see I can disagree with this conclusion or
how this and this was done. I can also see
the logic, and I can see also the gift that
I got of freedom and the ability to pursue different things.

And for a long time it was I didn't necessarily
look out that way, but that's how I think about now.
You had a mentor who said, during tough times, you
either change for the better or you just get frozen.
How did you change for the better? That was actually, yeah,
I forgot about that, but that was when I was
still dealing with a lot. And yeah, he said, given
given what you've done already, you're you're going to be

better because of this. You just don't know how yet.
And that started a long, long journey of sort of introspection.
And I don't know how much of it was recovering
from that, but I think I think had I been
caught up in running the company for you know, it
was totally crazy for lots of years and probably still is,

but I probably wouldn't have taken as much time to
grow personally. And so that's been part of what I've
been doing the last few years. Via health, meditation, kids,
family relationship development, all all of those things have helped

me create that distance and sort of the more even
view of it. How do you take care of your
head when you're a founder and you talk about like,
you know, taking care of yourself personally and that kind
of thing, like what do you actually do? What do
I do? Literally? What do I do? Yeah? I mean
I actually think, like tangibles are kind of interesting. So

the things I do now that I think, looking back,
I was just silly not to have done before are
are the things that everyone is. It feels cliche to saying,
but I try to get enough sleep, so like seven
to eight hours of sleep every night, and I exercise,
I meditate, I eat well or at least better than

than I did a one time. And you know, all
the kind of the classic things. UM. Another thing that
I think it's helped a lot with the culture of
medium is just UM developing much better relationships with my
team through training and workshops and stuff. That's been really

healthy thing for our culture and a very big difference
from how I ran things a medium. What do you
think when you look to the future in fifty years
you have kids now, I mean, what do you think
communication looks like for your kids? It's in fifty years?
Are we even on Twitter to see it? In exists?
Advertising a thing like just take us to the future

fifty years. I tend to think that things get more extreme,
but in more than one direction at once. So on
the one hand, I think a lot of the sci
fi visions of people being totally jacked into the matrix,
whether it's VR or more likely a are augmented reality.

Like the fact that we'll have heads up displays and
glasses that project information into our eyeballs. I think that
will totally be true and a real thing. And I'm
sure we'll have ambient always on audio in our ears,
and maybe even I'm I'm not up to speed on
the neurotransmitters, you know, sending information directly to our brains.

But I know people are working on that. I think
all those things will be true. I also and so
like everything else that will be good and bad, will
be partially touted as, oh, we're not looking at our
phones the whole time because we're getting just the information
we need. But I also think that will be overwhelming.
I think, hopefully, because I like to be optimistic, we'll

get over the sugar high of of information. I think
the misinformation and fake news and abuse and all those
things that are part of the Internet today. I think
there solves to all of those. I think that really, Yeah,
do you really think we get on top of this? Yes,
I think we know. Like I think in the years
that we've been talking, it doesn't it feels like I

don't know. I think we get on top of all that.
I think it's still really early. It's still all driven
by advertising. And do you think that's fixable? Do you
think that the fund of the business model of Silicon
Valley changes in order to happen? How it has to?
Because I mean most of the people, every because everybody
who can is going to pay for a higher quality information,

just like they hay for higher quality entertainment, like you
don't know anyone who can afford it who doesn't have
Netflix and probably three other streaming services or Spotify or
Apple Music, and it's just way better. And the same
thing will happen with our news and information that we consume,
as well as probably your social networks, which will alsto exist,
but they'll all be much more Now. There's gonna be

a downside of that as well. Maybe there'll be more
degated communities, maybe they'll be more create like the ultimate
I don't know, Silicon Valley, where like we can't even
be in your presence because I don't know who you're
talking to me about. I live in New York, Okay,
So I think all that's going to happen. There's also

going to be a one one trend in general is
that the Internet reflects the real world more and more
over time. And so one of the reasons that we're
going through, even if you look at cybersecurity, is because
most most the Internet was not built. It was like
communities that we're small towns and didn't have walks on
their doors, and then maybe became big cities and people

decided they needed to take security much more seriously, and
we need police forces, and that's just that's taking a while,
and so that's all going to happen. I'm sure. I
think it's mentally and emotionally, I am concerned about what
the about extreme looks like, even if we've addressed some
of them more blatant issues we have today. And so

I think on the other extreme, there's going to be
hopefully enough nature or nature like experiences where people can
completely I think there'll be a big trend toward completely
unplugging real life interaction and that will be a way
to live at least part of your life. What do

you think is um? Actually we go a little black
mirror with me for a moment. Someone in here said
to me, like he's like, well, I'm worried about Netflix
UM and the idea that like they'll be able to
measure your official expressions and and know the second you
talk about this instant feedback and how bad it is,
and and know the second that you're not interested, and
be able to target and do that kind of thing.

Do you think we're when it comes to the future
of media, like the media companies will be able to
know the second we're not our attention is gone and
be able to kind of act accordingly. I think that's
much more likely with CNN than with Netflix. Do you
think CNN will exist in fifty years? The brand will
Big media brands don't die, but Netflix, because when they

start doing that, it's going to be the same thing
when we get someone to read something on medium that
they click on because it appeals to their based instincts,
but they don't value. And so because now Netflix may
create advertising business as well and be doing that, I
don't know if Netflix will be independent in fifty years,
but they'll probably be owned by Disney. I hope not.

By the way, I just read that on medium. So speculating,
what do you think is the single most important ethical
issue when it comes to the future of tech and
us complicated human beings? The most important ethical issue, well,
the biggest to pay attention, I mean to frame it
as an ethical issue is by the way, I think

Netflix will be all video games in fifty years too.
Why because they're more compelling that that's the thing that
will capture people's attention. More entertainment is going to shift
more to you think it's all And do you think
with augmented layers we're all just going to be in
like a giant video game of sorts. Yeah, basically, kids

have a great future ahead. There will still be storytelling.
Storytelling is not going anywhere. But the ethical issue, I mean,
the issue that I'm most concerned about, and we've talked
about before is is climate and it's tangential to most
of the things we're talking about, but on the other hand,
completely related, because I think the reason the world has

not done enough for climate change so far isn't because
of lack of my information or lack of possibilities. It's
because of medium manipulation in politics and by those who
it's not in their interest to do to do things.
So I see that is the biggest issue by far
that we need to grapple with, and as an as
an ethical issue, it's not clear to me what what

tech does about that, but I worry about it. You
did blog, our Twitter, Medium. You just come up with
a new form of communication every so often that fundamentally
changes things. Will Medium be your final act? I think so.
I can't see starting another company from scratch, and there's
so much more I want to do with Medium. I

do really feel like we're we're scratching the surface, and
there's there's not really anything I can't be. Certainly, if
I were going to start another internet and media thing,
I can do all I want to do and all
I can imagine within medium. For her to start another company,
it would probably be totally unrelated. I want to do
a quick lightning round. Who would you rather have dinner with?
Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg? Who's at your table? Do

I have to pick? Can I have them both? I
just like that? Sure, I'd love to have them. Let's
see what the chat? Okay, the feature you wish you'd
created on Twitter but you didn't. Oh, well, you know,
it's a silly thing that we should It's basically Instagram.
What There was a very long time when you couldn't
upload a picture to Twitter and then eventually we built
it in. But I think we could have done everything

that Instagram does as as a separate, separate app or
separate feed or something the media company you'd like to buy,
Since um, you're I think you're a billionaire. You're a
billionaire and Billy App bought Time, so everyone's doing it
these days. In your position, I know you didn't you
want to you wanted to buy. Answer to that, why
not stop looking at your pr people? Why not? You

can answer whatever you want. Okay, Disney, Okay, years ago
you told me no regulation would be better than bad regulation.
What candidate is best equipped to deal with the nuances
of social media issues from tech comp and he's being
too proberful of the spread of misinformation? I don't know
which one is the worst candidate to deal with it.
I don't know. Oh man, So are you not political?

I am political when I haven't. I don't want to
weigh in on the current Democratic candidates. I will certainly
get behind one. Do you have a free ride to
space or a doomsday scenario like a bunker kind of thing?
That's no, I don't worry like that. Okay, I'm just
in general, not that's not because of coronavirus, just in general.
You know. I feel like a lot of people in
Silicon Valley have those I don't have those. I do have.

My dad still lives on the farm. I grew up
and in Rual, Nebraska, so that's sort of like I
could always retreat to their Okay, some personal questions, When
is the last time you felt really uncomfortable? Besides when
you're asking me questions politics and mark. You know, sometimes
I think people maybe think because you're a big founder,
you probably don't really get uncomfortable. Um, but I can

imagine you get uncomfortable sometimes. Absolutely, I was uncomfortable when
you're asking me about being fired from Twitter. That was
it's still to this day, feels sensitive. Why it's embarrassing? Really,
look at all the things you've gone and done since

it's a I don't know, it's not a logical thing necessarily,
I guess it makes it makes sense it was really public. Yeah, yeah,
well no, it was sort of is one of those
euphemisms at the time, like I'm spending more time with family,
stepping away. But yeah, I mean talking about failure is

uncomfortable for me. Why, Um, because of spent I think
most of my life trying to succeed. Isn't failure just
part of success. I mean, if I could go back
to any founder I've ever interviewed, the only thing that
most of them have in common is a little bit
of insanity, a lot of resilience, and the ability to

fail over and over again. Yeah, you know, I don't
feel sensitive. I feel many things in terms of like
here's an idea that I think would work and doesn't work.
And I've gotten much better about embracing being wrong, But
that that that's a different thing. I feel like I
can imagine that it felt. It felt tough. I saw

something you wrote. We were talking about some of the
stuff you kind of put yourself through and building a company,
and you were saying, I certainly would have would have
made more progress overall, had I gotten more sleep and
taking care of myself. But I don't feel like I
could have done it any other way given the person
I was, I needed total immersion driven out of fear
and lack of knowledge. Um, what were you so afraid of?

Like when building a company? Um depends on what time
I was talking about. But it was like in blogger
times where I went when laid off my whole team
and almost went out of business. I just didn't see
any alternative that was acceptable. It was a lot of pride,
I think, an ego. I didn't want uh fail, yes,

and I didn't want to. I didn't think I was
qualified to get any sort of job that I would want. UM.
This is during the kind of the dot com bust,
and so it just seemed unacceptable to fail. You know,
we talk about money and this bubble. You have a

lot of money, and Silicon Valley's problem is that to degree,
no matter how optimistic you guys are, and I know
you are an optimist and you've claimed to be an optimist. Um,
you guys live in a bubble, and increasingly it's smaller.
So how do you fix the problems in the world, um,
that are created by the tech that much of the
tech that you guys have built when the bubble you

live in is kind of shrinking shrinkings and it's probably harder.
I can imagine, UM that it's probably harder for you
to understand and graphs the real world when you live
in such a bubble. And I granted you live in
New York. You aren't as Silicon Valley as many of
the founders I know. UM, you speak a little bit
more openly than some of the Silicon Valley founders I know. UM,

but it is a bubble. Yeah. I think it's the
biggest thing is just try to be open. I mean,
I and that that is part of moving to New
York and getting different perspectives and talking to people. But
I can't I think the biggest thing is not it
was having people in the company who, um, who have

different perspectives, and really building diversity into the company and
in a culture of of listening, and then also relates
to a willingness to be wrong. I think that that exchange.
I'm happy to debate things and be wrong and have opinions,
and that's something we try to engender in the company.

So I think, just it's not I don't know everything.
I have to keep reminding myself to that, and I've
I feel like I know a lot less than I
used to think I know, So that's good. Is that
hard to do? I know a lot of the people
we've had on on the show so far I have
talked about it's harder and harder to speak truth to
power in Silicon Valley, especially in these tech companies where
there's a billion dollar bottom line, it is harder sometimes

to go to the top and say what's actually happening.
Maybe that's not the case as much as Medium. I
don't know. I mean, I'm sure I probably can't say
whether that's hard to medium or not, but um, it
feels like there's a lot more of that happening in
in Silicon Valley than than there used to be, but
in terms of people, well, maybe not that there used
to be a Silicon Valley. I would say that's one

thing that people underestimate that has always been a really
healthy aspect of Silicon Valley company is certainly compared to
rest of corporate America and corporate the world, is that
there is sort of an attitude of everybody's smart and
has something to contribute. And I remember when I was
at Google in two thousand and three and two thousand four,

lots of people of the company was a couple of
thousand people, and engineers and other people didn't have any
problem standing up in all hands and calling out Larry
or Sergey or Eric on something in front of everyone
and the whole or in email more likely, and they
do not be evil. Thing was taken very very seriously.
Um and now there's walkouts and and so I think

that that tension and people's willingness to do that is
is a good thing and healthy and it keeps founders
in check. And a big reason that founders are I
think not as much in a bubble as they would
be is because their employees don't let them be. Do
you believe that the products you're responsible for will do

more good than bad when you look back at history. Um, yes,
I have to believe they will do more good than bad,
especially the one I'm working on now. Cool. How do
you want to be known? I don't need to be known. Huh.
How would you want your children to view you? Um?
I would want them to view me as as working

very hard to do what I thought was the right thing.
Let's say, I hope you enjoyed getting inside EV's brain

a bit. Now we're trying something new this go around.
We're adding show notes so you can get a bit
more context from these conversations. So for that photo, we
spoke about my first contact with Ev. Back see our
show notes and you can also find a link to
the full transcript of this episode. Also, let me know
what you thought of it. I'm trying out this new

community number so you can text me, and I swear
this actually goes directly to my phone. The number is
three zero, So text me and here's a personal request.
If you like the show, leave us a review on
the Apple podcast app or wherever you listen to your podcasts,
and subscribe so you don't miss an episode. You can

follow me. I'm at Lorie Siegel on Twitter and Instagram,
and the show is at First Contact Podcast on Instagram
and on Twitter. We're at First Contact Pod. First Contact
is a production of Dot dot Dot Media. Executive produced
by Lorie Siegel and Derek Dodge, and this episode was
produced and edited by Sabine Jansen and Jack Reagan. Original
theme music by Xander Singh. First Contact with Lori Siegel

is a production of Dot dot Dot Media and I
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