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Tweet Science

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Twitter, as a company, has a lot of conspicuous connections to Google: Costolo and Williams are former Googlers, and famed venture capitalist John Doerr, in addition to seeding Twitter nearly $150 million, is on the board of directors at Google. ­Doerr’s investment motto is, famously, “No conflict, no interest.”

Twitter’s executives all told me they want to be a stand-alone company, but there’s a reasonable alternate scenario: If Facebook’s IPO goes well, and Google+ does not, Google would be desperate to solve its social-media problem, and it might make Twitter an offer it can’t refuse, making the Facebook-Google faceoff a war over whether the web exists inside a walled garden or outside one, whether it’s a private news feed or a public one.

Dorsey, the optimist visionary, believes Google+ and Twitter and Facebook can all co-exist.

“People are constantly looking for change. That’s a basic human truth,” says Dorsey. “I think people will get bored of one. We’re not at odds with each other. We’re going after different audiences with different approaches.”

Which brings us back to the folks on the third floor and the problem of making hash of all those tweets. If they can get more people to show up, stick around, and organize themselves inside a more streamlined and unified Twitter, it will give advertisers a bigger “inventory” of timelines within which to insert their messages. It also strengthens what Twitter calls its users’ “interest graphs,” allowing advertisers to target them with precision through their matrix of comments and replies and friends and followers, not unlike how a Google ad finds you through your own search. If you like Snooki, for instance, you might also enjoy a tweet from a ­tanning-lotion company in your timeline. Or a tweet about another MTV reality show, 16 and Pregnant. Or one about Wonderful Pistachios, the nuts she got paid to promote on TV.

Or not. Twitter has proved valuable for aggregating real-time news, or snarking about celebrities on TV—two pretty big businesses, but maybe not quite $8 billion big and certainly not enough to meet the Earth-size ambitions Dorsey has in mind.

Lindzon says Twitter is the “greatest invention in the history of the Internet,” but he is skeptical that Twitter can organize that entire vat of 200 million tweets a day into a fluid and orderly experience, billboard it with advertisements, and still retain its biggest strength—which is surprise. “I want to have that ‘aha’ moment,” he says. “If they can figure out how to monetize that, good luck.”


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