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Twitter co-founder returning to Wellesley as Babson commencement speaker

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone,  who grew up in Wellesley, will be returning to town May 14 to deliver a commencement speech to Babson College undergrads.

Biz Stone, Twitter

Also delivering talks will be William Drayton, a social entrepreneur.

I interviewed Biz back in June 2007, before Twitter was a household name, and here’s how it went:

Wellesley’s connection to Twitter
Twitter is seemingly everywhere these days.  And that’s the idea behind the hot social networking system, which works via cellphones, the Web and instant messaging, and that has users constantly and briefly answering the question: What are you doing?  The free service got some play Sunday at the MTV Movie Awards, was profiled recently in the New York Times and now gets written up in The Swellesley Report (we hope they’re not peaking too soon).
What’s our angle? One key player on the team behind Twitter  and its culture of messaging “Tweets” is Biz Stone, who grew up in Wellesley and has racked up a slew of social networking credentials (he worked on Xanga and Blogger, plus has a couple of blogging books to his name). Stone, who now lives in California, shared a few thoughts with us via email.

What’s your Wellesley background?
My mom’s parents were immigrants and passed away when I was very young. We moved into their Wellesley home when I was about two years old. My father is an auto mechanic and my mom worked for the public school system when I was a kid so my sisters and I lucked out being raised in Wellesley and attending WMS and WHS. I graduated WHS in 1992.

Anything about growing up in Wellesley lead you into the career you’ve had so far?
Growing up in Wellesley, I felt that my life was an open book. There seemed to be limitless opportunity. For one thing, I made a killing mowing lawns as a kid. Later, when my friends and I decided to produce, direct, and act in our own plays at WHS, we did so with limited impediment and found success.
Likewise, I had never played sports as a child but some friends and I along with a youthful coach founded the Wellesley Men’s Lacrosse team. I served as captain of the team during three formative years. My teachers at WHS were inspirational too, I felt as though anything were possible. The feeling of limitless potential has a profound effect on a young mind.

Give me the Twitter elevator pitch
Twitter is a new way to stay in touch that changes the expectations associated with traditional forms of electronic communication. We ask one question: “What are you doing?” and the answer can be anything as long as it’s within 140 characters. Our core technology is a real-time, device-agnostic message routing system.
Our technology routes messages from a variety of “devices” including instant message applications, mobile texting (sms), and over the web in different ways. Woven into this system are fundamental social networking features which make Twitter a very lightweight social communication system that is both separate from, and complimentary to, every other tool or service you can imagine.
Our funding comes initially from a company called Obvious which formerly owned Twitter and another company called Odeo. Odeo was recently sold and Twitter, Inc was recently founded by myself and my colleagues Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams. We’re currently closing up an initial round of capital to fuel our plans.

I see you used to work at Wellesley College. What did you do there and how was that experience?
Between helping to start
Xanga.com in New York City and moving out to San Francisco to continue building social media applications I wrote two books and took a job at Wellesley College. Because I was already friendly with professors at the college, I discovered an opportunity to help Wellesley develop community features for their alumnae and had an opportunity to do some teaching during Wintersession. The year I spent at Wellesley College was awesome. Sometimes I feel like a student emeritus. Is that a thing?

Now give me an explanation of Twitter that someone not attached to their cellphone, IM etc. 24 hours a day would understand.
Twitter changes expectations associated with other communication forms like email and IM because it doesn’t require a reply–answers to the question “What are you doing?” are for the most part, rhetorical. Likewise, receiving updates from friends and family is ambient. These updates may find their way to you however you choose.
Folks may step in and out of the Twitter stream as it suits them and we have features like “sleep time” that turn off updates all together for set periods of time. On one hand, Twitter can be seen as staying hyper-connected, and on the other, it can be seen as the antidote to modern information overload–in actuality, it’s both. This is why it’s a new form of social interaction and self-expression.

How do you suspect Twitter will play among Wellesleyites?
Folks in Wellesley tend to lead very busy lives and are probably deluged with information on daily basis. However, I suspect they will recognize the value of maintaining an emotional connection without the expectation of immediate engagement.

Got any new books in the works?  (Do people actually read physical books about blogging?)
Surprisingly enough, people do buy physical books about blogging and social media. My first two books did well for their category and found their way into lots of schools and libraries. I’ve got a few ideas kicking around for another book project but it may have to wait a bit.

RELATED: Follow The Swellesley Report on Twitter


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