Twitter co-creator talks simplicity in technology [IdeaFestival 2010]

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In a presentation he entitled “Spotting a Good Idea,” Twitter co-creator Dom Sagolla told Idea Festival attendees over lunch on Friday that there are “three words to remember in the world of ideas: fun, simple, and social.”

It makes sense that a guy formerly on the frontlines of Twitter would be a disciple of the simplistic, but it is still weird to listen to a successful engineer and inventor tell a roomful of people not to shoot for the stars. Instead, Sagolla encouraged “creative constraints.” In the same way that Twitter constrains an update to a mere 140 characters (a number derived from research into human cognitive capabilities, according to Sagolla), Sagolla believes that figuring out how to limit an idea can ultimately be what leads to success.

“All of my ideas are developed in one month,” the youthful and humble Sagolla claimed to the attentive crowd, going on to say that when such a constraint is set it “limits overhead, limits risk.”

With a comfortable pace and every-guy charm that seemed more learned than natural, the youthful Sagolla spent 60 minutes explaining a little of his history (Twitter) and present (lots of freelance Apple product work), and a lot more about the real importance of technology and its ability to empower.

“One could change the world with 140 characters,” Sagolla said early in the lecture, quoting Twitter’s main brain Jack Dorsey. He spoke on his belief of this concept and later returned to it with an intense story regarding the Iranian conflict in 2009 during which many Americans set their Twitter location to be Iran so that the few Iranians providing information in the crisis would be protected from government surveillance.

“Next time someone says your tweet about what you had for dinner is meaningless, remember this. We were PROTECTING people with tweets like that.”

The presentation came to a close with the technology and policy correspondent for The Economist, Brendan Greeley, coming to the stage to facilitate a short question and answer session. Sagolla fielded questions from both Greeley (tackling the concepts of self-promotion and marketing that come along with Twitter), and various audience members, with one in particular asking Sagolla if he worked on platforms other than those used in Apple products. In one of the only moments of the session where he seemed to lack humility, Sagolla grinned and said, “In this case, I go with who can pay me.”

Photo: Brian Eichenberger