At the annual South by Southwest gathering of techies in Austin, in March, conference organisers had chosen a hangar-size room to accommodate their star speaker: Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter, the messaging and social networking site that had become a digital phenomenon.
It is no small irony, of course, that a man so ill at ease on the big stage is a pivotal force in a communications revolution, one that has made it easier for people to chat, disseminate information and mobilise locally and globally with almost anyone who has a cellphone or an Internet connection.
Twitter has 175 million registered users, up from 503,000 three years ago and 58 million just last year. It is adding about 370,000 new users a day.
Now the company is trying to instill some of the rigour and sense of purpose it needs to ensure that it is, indeed, the next big thing.
Last month, he announced that he had decided to step down as chief executive and give the job to Dick Costolo, who had been Twitter’s chief operating officer.
Williams, who remains on the company’s board, now focuses on product strategy. He made the decision after conceiving and spending months working on the recent redesign of the Twitter Web site.
“I’ve screwed up in many, many, many ways in terms of managing people and product decisions and business, so I feel fairly confident at this point that it could scale pretty well,” says Williams, 38.