The Interface

By Casey Newton

Jack Dorsey talks (and talks and talks)



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January 23 · Issue #277 · View online
The Interface
Jack Dorsey is talking.
He is talking to the Huffington Post’s Ashley Feinberg.
He is talking to The Ringer‘s Bill Simmons.
He is talking to Sam Harris, although that podcast hasn’t come out yet.
He is talking in the way Jack Dorsey always talks, which is: calmly, patiently, thoughtfully, earnestly.
He can anticipate every question, because he has read his Twitter replies, and he knows what is on your mind. He will not shy away from discussing Nazis, or harassment, or filter bubbles, or smartphone addiction. Name a problem that you have encountered on Twitter, or an unintended consequence of Twitter that you worry about, and Dorsey will cop to it.
He is talking, but one reason that he is talking to let you know that he is listening, too.
He has been listening for a long time.
In September, Mark Zuckerberg was talking. The New Yorker was profiling him, and I expressed frustration at interviews about tech platforms’ challenges that place the CEO at the center. In some ways, I understand the inclination — the CEO is traditionally in the best position to enact change. But a lesson we have learned is that once social networks grow to a certain scale, they operate beyond their creators’ control. You can ask them what they plan to do about it. But the answers will tell you less than you hope.
This turns out to be particularly true in the case of Twitter. As I wrote at the time:
Lately I find myself less interested in reading tech CEOs perform their thoughtfulness. During the Alex Jones deplatforming drama, I wrote that Twitter’s dithering was frustrating because the company so often substitutes thinking for action. Dorsey gave several interviews during this time, and I read them all, and I learned almost nothing. It isn’t that the questions were bad, or that Dorsey sidestepped them. It’s that what he thinks is ultimately less consequential than what he does.
There are talented product managers inside Twitter who would do more, if they could. But they are often stymied by internal roadblocks that — unlike the collective behavior of hundreds of millions of users — actually are under the CEO’s control.
At Twitter, good ideas languish for years. The expansion of a tweet from 140 to 280 characters required such bruising internal battles that the project managers responsible quit in exhaustion after shipping it, I’m told. Other proposed features are abandoned when product managers realize that shipping them will need support from different divisions inside the company — requiring PMs to get buy-in from colleagues who are already busy with their own priorities, and who typically have little incentive to take detours.
Ask anyone whoever left Twitter for another company and they’ll tell you the main thing they notice is how much faster things get done at the new place. Twitter continues to be defined by its paralysis.
But paralysis doesn’t make for a very good story. And so we get the CEO’s performative listening tour, in which he can assure all of us that he takes our concerns very seriously, as a simple effort to measure the health of public conversations prepares to enter its second year with little to show for it beyond an effort to make tweets look more like text messages.
On Twitter, everyone laughs at the bit in Rolling Stone where Dorsey says that Zuckerberg once served him a goat that he killed … with “a laser gun.”
I don’t know. A stun gun. They stun it, and then he knifed it. Then they send it to a butcher. Evidently in Palo Alto there’s a rule or regulation that you can have six livestock on any lot of land, so he had six goats at the time. I go, “We’re eating the goat you killed?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Have you eaten goat before?” He’s like, “Yeah, I love it.” I’m like, “What else are we having?” “Salad.”
Fewer people seemed to note the section in which Dorsey suggested that Square has to be run well, because it’s about money, whereas Twitter does not, because it’s about words:
HIATT: By all accounts, Square runs more smoothly than Twitter.
DORSEY: It has to, though. Yeah, you’re dealing with people’s money. I mean, it’s extremely emotional. If you lose 140 characters, people are like, “Eh.” If you lose $140 or even $1.40, it’s important. We knew the severity, and we knew how emotional this was to people. We’re impacting their livelihoods, so we had to get every single thing right. There’s a lot of regulation around payments. If you do something wrong, you go to jail.
Imagine a world in which Dorsey believed, and acted as if, Twitter had to get every single thing right. Imagine a world in which regulation compelled him to.
Jack Dorsey isn’t talking about that.

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And finally ...
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