Biz Stone on Twitter's Independence

It would be all too easy for the founders of Twitter to become revolutionary heroes. In 2009, when the Iranian people staged massive protests, the world learned about their ideals and their suffering through 140-character tweets. During the recent Arab spring, Twitter not only provided news but helped overthrow multiple governments.

The Ideas ReportBut cofounders Biz Stone and Evan Williams are shying away from the revolutionary label. In this video, Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson asks the pair a leading question: Is their invention a tool for democracy? After responding with blank silence, Stone explains why he and Williams aren't eager to align themselves with democratic ideals.

Stone and Williams have good reason for keeping their distance from the State Department. For one thing, they've got an image to maintain, not only as iconoclastic hipsters but as inventors of an appealingly simple technology. As Williams puts it earlier in this discussion, "We wanted to create products that were obvious and easy to use, and straightforward -- not tricky, not trying to be too clever."

There's another reason for Stone and Williams to avoid ideological labels. As Williams goes on to say in this discussion, being an Internet entrepreneur means thinking internationally. On this website and elsewhere, they've happily claimed credit for Twitter's success as a medium. But they won't let it become a message. If they want to stay on top of the world, they must keep their product as fluid and transparent as water. Stone and Williams may not be tricky, but no one can say they aren't clever.

More video from the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival

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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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