The New York Times innovation report in three takeaways

The New York Times innovation report has been described as one of the most important documents ever for the digital media business.

Given where we are in digital media – a place that has seen media transform greatly in the last five years, yet not at a place that feels settled by any means – that doesn’t seem like an overreaction. The report is a blueprint for how legacy media companies and digital startups will compete on the same digital level going forward.

I spent the last month or so with the report open on my laptop and picked at it sparingly whenever a few minutes allowed until I finished it.

There’s a vast amount of information, and I highly suggest you read through the entirety of the report, but if you don’t have time to get through all 97 pages, I’ve reduced the report down to what I think are the three most important takeaways for those in the digital media business or readers who are just interested in the Internet’s future.

Here is the full report if interested. Now the three main takeaways.

No. 1: Audience development is as vital as the content itself

Legacy media companies have been undercut by digital disruptors not because the latter’s content is consistently better, but because the disruptors have a much better strategy for serving their Web audiences.

There’s a reason Ezra Klein left The Washington Post for and David Pogue left The New York Times for Yahoo and sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy are traffic mongers that have built massive digital audiences in a relatively short amount of time. Those outlets nail down platform and distribution strategies before investing in heavily in higher-quality, original content.

Audience development – how we package content, promote it and get it to users – is becoming just as important as the actual content we produce for digital media. That can be a hard thing to grasp for reporters and editors with traditional sensibilities, and some of the disconnect is driven by pride. If we create a great piece of content, it will be completely appreciated by the audience, right? Not necessarily.

In the digital world, you have to take your content to the audience for it to have success. Readers aren’t guaranteed in this space. The best websites have sound strategies that utilize Twitter, Facebook, email newsletters, mobile alerts and other social sites to corral their audience and drive attention to content. There has to be a relationship between content provider and reader.

One fact drilled home in the NYT’s report is that only a third of digital readers, at best, visit the site’s homepage. Readers aren’t opening a web browser and typing in a URL as much anymore; their habits have changed. They’re perusing social media for links and waiting for content to find them through their channels.

The good news is content has a longer shelf life and can be redistributed when relevant. Most media outlets have archives of that can be repackaged in creative ways (think anniversaries, special dates, news that builds on old developments, etc). We have so much stuff on the Internet, but a very small percentage of it is delivered with context. This is an opportunity and the premise of what is trying to achieve.

Personalization and contextual journalism will be important going forward to create two-way relationships with readers, and simple convenience will carry a premium. Readers are inundated with quality content now. It’s vital to have a great marketing and promotion plan driven by social media when rolling out content, because much of your audience is on mobile.

If you take only one thing from the NYT report, I’d suggest it’s the understanding that exceptional content in the digital media era is exceptional ONLY if it’s backed by an exceptional promotional strategy. If not, the content won’t find the audience it deserves.

No. 2: The newsroom can’t be an editorial island

This is more of an organizational thing for those running companies, but it’s just as important.

Traditionally, editorially teams have existed on islands, off by themselves creating content and upholding the standards of Real Journalism while business folks are stuck trying to figure out how to actually make money.

That can’t be the case anymore. There needs to be collaboration between editorial and other groups that directly affect content (product, audience development, business ops, sales, engineers, etc). Yes, the editorial team needs to protect journalistic standards – which may not be of concern to those who don’t have experience in content creation – but there shouldn’t be a stigma that comes with creating content that in conjunction with business goals.

One huge takeaway from the NYT report is the importance of platform innovation and replicability, something sites like BuzzFeed have mastered. Instead of creating one-off pieces of content, those sites have invested in creating tools and platforms that allow the editorial teams to consistently pump out similar content that they know will be successful (a BuzzFeed example would be quizzes).

Infrastructure is often overlooked at the company’s peril, and the digital media business currently is seeing an arm’s race to build the best infrastructure. I don’t get the sense we’re even close to reaching an innovation plateau. To keep innovating, there can’t be barriers between editorial and product, design, technology, analytics, R&D, et al. There needs to collaboration. Strategy teams should be encouraged to best devise how to blend these groups.

It’s natural in the newsroom to get caught in the daily content demands, with the news cycle shrinking vision to the day at hand and little beyond. To compensate, there needs to be people outside the day-to-day editorial operations that can spend time studying the habits of digital audiences and report back to editorial teams.

So to recap: Audience development is just as vital as the content itself, and to maximize audience development, the editorial team has to be integrated with other groups that make the whole business go.

No. 3: Rethink the word “talent”

I have a friend in media who tries to avoid using the word “talent” whenever possible, because he doesn’t like how it’s become a term for writers and on-air folks, thus insinuating that everyone else in media who doesn’t perform one of those two roles isn’t, in their own way, a “talent.”

I don’t take the term that seriously, but I have also wondered at times if it overlooks the incredibly talented people in other parts of the business. With companies now prioritizing digital, the word “talent” is taking on a new meaning.

Digital talent has never been in higher demand, and the value of top digital talent is only going to rise. In this instance, digital talent is not just writers and broadcasters, but also editors, designers, engineers, developers and others.

Because digital content is only as successful as the platform and promotional strategies behind it, the front-facing public talent aren’t the only ones driving the business forward. The best companies are competing for editors with great ideas, brilliant engineers and the like just as much as they’re competing for the people whose names might be more public.

This is an important distinction to make as we move forward. If you presented the folks at BuzzFeed with the option of hiring one writer who will write great stuff but provide little else of value to the company or one editor who will devise promotional plans and formulate ideas for future content tools, all of which will have a much greater reach than just the editor himself, the choice doesn’t seem to be that difficult given the context of where digital media is now.

That’s not meant to devalue the former – you need great writers and content creators of all kinds. It’s just meant to underscore that everything you don’t see from the outside of a digital media company is becoming exponentially more important as the industry evolves.

Email: Twitter: @TMitrosilis

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John Oliver crushes net neutrality on HBO

Net neutrality is an admittedly chewy topic.

In the simplest of definitions, it’s the belief that the flow of Internet traffic from content creators to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be equal.

Huge broadband or wireless companies (Time Warner, Comcast, etc) have ways of clogging the flow of traffic so content providers (Netflix, Hulu, etc) without leverage are forced to pay for special privileges so their customers continue to have great experiences and don’t ditch them for another service. This is bad if you’re a net neutrality advocate.

If you want to read more than that on the interior details of net neutrality, I’d suggest Tim Lee’s feature over at Vox. It explains everything in a way you can understand.

I don’t want to dive any deeper into the gory details of net neutrality than that, but on this blog we talk about content and its business, and so this subject is vital to the future of content creation and general innovation of the Web. A restricted Internet results in restricted options for you as a content consumer, because it makes life for the next wave of startups much more difficult.

As customers, we’re pro-competition; that forces services and their offerings to become better and better, driving up the quality of the content market. That’s why this issue is important, but it’s not the real reason I’m posting about it now.

The REAL reason is that John Oliver recently went off on net neutrality on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, and it gives me a good excuse to share it here.

I don’t even care if Oliver’s segment might not have been entirely accurate, and I promise you don’t have to be a media wonk or like the subject of net neutrality (who does?) to enjoy this video.

It’s hilarious, and make sure you stick around to the 11:30 mark to listen to Oliver address Internet commenters with a call to action. Brilliant. (And thanks to Ezra Klein for his post on Vox, where I ran across this video.)

Email: Twitter: @TMitrosilis

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Now Reading: Mad Men, college grads, Silicon Valley, GoPro, cancer doc

Quickly cleaning out some open tabs on the MacBook Pro …

Matthew Weiner talks about writing and Mad Men

If you like screenwriting, writing of any kind, storytelling, Mad Men, television in general or really anything else in the creative business, this Paris Review Q&A with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is well worth your time. He discusses his writing process, his career, how his hit show came together and much more. One of the most fascinating parts to me: Weiner’s habit for standing in a room, an assistant waiting to transcribe, and dictating scenes when writing Mad Men. Also gives him some ammunition when a soft actor says a line is too difficult to speak. Pretty brilliant.

Some advice for college graduates

It’s that time of year: Kids are graduating from college and looking for advice, whether it be at their commencement ceremonies or elsewhere. Arthur C. Brooks offers some advice in The New York Times after listening to (and giving) many commencement speeches. This is good advice for anyone, not just graduates, particularly No. 1 and No. 4.

The next big technology

Marc Andreessen is a guy who knows stuff. A highly successful venture capitalist, he talks to ace NYT tech writer Nick Bilton about Silicon Valley, whether other valleys can pop up in different locations, the next thing that will be as transformative as the web browser and one change he’d immediately make to Twitter (if only for purely selfish reasons).

What GoPro means when it calls itself a media company

GoPro, the high-tech camera company whose hardware creates some of the most riveting first-person video we enjoy around the Web, has filed for an IPO and is branding itself as a media company. As Zach Seward explains in Qz, something called the GoPro Network exists and is producing content, although the two issues with it currently are obvious: distribution and revenue (or lack thereof). Zach sees the future of GoPro always being primarily a hardware company, with media being simply the medium through which it communicates, but I could see a GoPro Network finding traction, particularly if it’s digitally driven and leverages the audience its already built with its YouTube channel (almost 1.9 million subscribers).

I could see it selling advertising on its YouTube Network, licensing original GoPro experiences and creating original content that utilizes GoPro elements but isn’t in itself just a GoPro video (e.g. documentaries with GoPro shots mixed in). I could see a subscription service that offers exclusive content and out-of-the-box ideas such as consulting on a couple personal GoPro videos per year. There are lots of ideas to create and monetize content, with its hardware business providing the company’s foundation (see any similarities to Beats Music, which just sold to Apple for a reported $3.2 billion).

The day I started lying to Ruth

This is an incredibly sad and difficult story, but also a beautiful one. It’s about a cancer doctor losing his wife to the disease. I held off reading it for two weeks, but after it wouldn’t go away on my social media feeds, I figured I had to give it a read. Others who have gone through what Peter Bach went through seemed to find some form of comfort in the story (even given how painful it is), so hopefully you do, too, if you can relate to the author.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email:

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Now Reading: El Chapo, TV writing, Mad Men’s Pete Campbell, pageviews, David Cohen, whiskey tip

Clearing out some open tabs on my MacBook Pro …

The hunt for the world’s most notorious drug lord

This piece from Patrick Radden Keefe in The New Yorker is incredible. “The hunt for El Chapo” is the story of the Mexican government’s pursuit of Joaquin Guzman Loera, perhaps the world’s most sought-after fugitive after the United States took out Osama Bin Laden.

El Chapo has made hundreds of millions of dollars in the Mexican drug trade and has run an organization responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. Through deep cultivation of sources in both the Mexican and U.S. defense agencies, Patrick pieced together a detailed account of the chase and capturing of El Chapo. Because the U.S. doesn’t have authority to make arrests outside its borders, the best it could do to assist Mexico’s government was hand over leads and hope its militia could finish the job.

Of course, oftentimes it was difficult to determine how many insiders El Chapo had in the Mexican military feeding him intel to fuel his continuous escapes (it never seemed like a question of if El Chapo had insiders in the government, just the total number). I’d love to hear Patrick on a podcast or in a Q&A explain his reporting process for this piece and all the hoops he had to jump through and how long it took him to do that. It’s a remarkable reporting job – The New Yorker at its absolute best.

How an IT guy tweeted his way into a TV writing job

Loved this piece from Vulture’s Jennifer Rogers and Callie Wright on a middle-aged guy from Illinois whose witty Twitter account earned him an opportunity to leave his IT job and move to New York to write jokes for the show Late Night With Seth Meyers.

While it’s true that there’s more competition than ever in the writing/creative business and it sometimes can be extremely difficult to find work, this is another example of a way in which modern technology has lowered some barriers of entry into the business. There are forums now where raw talent can become exposed, and some are becoming more willingly to take chances on raw talent than trace the rungs of an industry ladder that you once had no choice but to climb if you wanted to rise.

This is the other side of “it’s hard to find opportunity” argument. Yes, it can be. But there are also doors that previously ceased to exist.

Matthew Weiner on Vincent Kartheiser (aka Mad Men’s Pete Campbell)

If you like the show Mad Men, you’ll love this interview Jada Yuan did with show creator Matthew Weiner about Vincent Kartheiser, the man who plays the character Peter Campbell.

I had a much deeper respect for Kartheiser’s talent after reading Weiner describe how he so effortlessly humanizes Campbell. He has a gift for conveying emotion that Weiner can’t script. It’s an enlightening look into what makes great acting talent.

Jada also wrote a profile of Kartheiser that’s worth reading.

Why editorial staffs should look at more than just pageviews

Insightful and important read from Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile on why editorial operations should give journalists the right metrics to made educated content decisions and not solely rely on pageviews.

It’s a difficult proposition, balancing the daily hunger for clicks against selling out for them, and there are tangible long-term ramifications of being entirely pageview driven. Sometimes I wonder if we (“we” being the general content creation engine) give enough thought to what we’re consistently providing users and if we’re sacrificing loyalty for instant pageview validation.

I don’t have an answer for this – maybe there isn’t a great one. Businesses do run on bottom lines, to some degree, and those need to be met. I just think there’s an important question to continually ponder: If I’m the reader, what kind of value am I getting from this site/publication and what reason do I have for coming back?

Comcast’s real repairman

I enjoyed this Michael Sokolove profile in The New York Times of Comcast EVP David Cohen and his influence in the media world. Take from it what you want. His obsessive nature of preparation stuck out to me.

New to whiskey? Here’s a tip

Attention drinkers who put Coke in your whiskey: stop.

Whiskey is a brilliant and marvelous liquid that should be treated with more respect than that. If you’re just trying it out, take this tip from Rachel Tepper and adjust until it fits your taste.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email:

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Here’s a great lesson on reporting from The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin

Recently, Jeffrey Toobin wrote a compelling piece in The New Yorker about the Baltimore City Detention Center, and today he had a post on the Internet about how he found some of his sources for the piece.

Toobin’s editor wanted him to talk to former B.C.D.C. inmates about what it was like in prison so that he could write a richer tale and include that perspective. So how did he find those former inmates?

Here’s Toobin:

Without much of a clue about what to do, I took the train back to Baltimore. When I arrived, I strolled down the row of cabs, leaning over to ask the drivers if they knew anyone who had done time in the jail. A half-dozen or so told me to go to hell, in various languages. When I was ready to give up this line of inquiry, a driver who had overheard my questions called me over and gave me some advice. “Walk about four blocks that way,” he said, pointing. “Turn left, and go to the McDonald’s. They’re all in there.”

So, without any other tips, I walked to Baltimore’s gritty North Avenue and found this standard-issue McDonald’s. It was late morning, pre-lunch, and there were a handful of guys nursing coffees. I sidled up to one and asked, “Do you know anyone who’s been in B.C.D.C.?”

“Yeah, me,” he said. I offered to buy him another coffee, and we began to talk. After a while, I approached another customer. He had been in the jail, too. Quickly, I changed my approach. Instead of asking if these folks knew anyone else who had been an inmate, I got right to the point: “Have you been inside B.C.D.C.?”

I’ll stop there and direct you to Toobin’s blog for the rest of it, but there’s a simple and powerful lesson here.

We have so many brilliant reporting tools at our disposal now — the Internet, archived video, social media, endless databases, on and on.

Sometimes, the best reporting tool is a cab driver you just met telling you what you need can be found at that place four blocks up on the corner. That’s helpful to remember once in a while.

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NFL Media and a future of bottomless content

For the purposes of this blog, I rarely ever post mainstream sports media content (which I deal with daily in a professional capacity), but there was a great Q&A today that I thought crossed over into our world here and has some valuable insight.

Peter King, the great NFL writer for Sports Illustrated and The MMQB, devoted a segment of his Monday Morning Quarterback column to an interview with Brian Rolapp, the chief operating officer of NFL Media and incoming president of NFL Network.

In the interview, Rolapp talks about the future of NFL Media, how it will continue to push into the digital space and some exciting developments at the crossroads on content and technology. Read the interview in full for a wide-ranging discussion of NFL media topics – here, I want to briefly highlight the NFL Now project that is scheduled to launch in August.

NFL Now, as Rolapp describes it, is a “personalized video network that exists on any device you have.” Fans will be able to customize the video content they receive by their favorite team(s) and it’ll stream to any device from all different sources – old NFL Films content, news and highlights, fantasy analysis, etc.

In a content world that’s increasingly meeting at the intersection of video and mobile, this will be a robust, on-demand package for NFL Fans. “We always say, ‘It’s not old media and new media. It’s just media.’ You need to understand how the fans are consuming content and how they’re spending their time,” Rolapp told King.

We’re no longer in a period of media where television exists over here and digital media is an adventure still being figured out over there and social media idles in the corner ready to support the platforms if we could just close the gap between mediums. We now exist in a business simply of screens, and content is flowing more easily between them.

What fascinates me is this trend starting to take shape of not only aligning all platforms digitally, but revitalizing content that has been largely lost to time, our evolving consumption habits and the increasing velocity of our churn-and-burn content cycle.

When the digital-native WWE Network launched, part of the appeal to users was the historical trove of wrestling content fans got in addition to WWE’s live events (which came at a fraction of the pay-per-view cost). That same element will exist with NFL Now so fans fan get lost in the dark halls of NFL Films. “You can search whatever you want, and finally we can mine that treasure trove that Steve and Ed Sabol built for 40 years,” Rolapp told King.

If you noticed the relaunch of recently under the leadership of Ezra Klein, the site’s signature feature is its “cards” – a living set of slides that is continually updated with the most relevant information for any given topic so that no content is ever really “old.” (To see this in action, here are the cards for everything you need to know about marijuana legalization). This is different, of course, than a digital vault of the best Super Bowl moments ever, but it’s related. Content on these platforms doesn’t really end.

At the very least, this “bottomless content” concept accomplishes two things: 1) It places value back on content that has already been sold once – a double-dipping of sorts 2) It enriches the offering to consumers, making them feel like they’re getting more for their dollars.

That’s quite enough reason to build seamless streaming services with these capabilities if you’re a content provider (Would I be interested in streaming classic Dodgers games right now on my iPad while SportsNet LA blacks out 70 percent of Dodgers fans in the city? Why, yes I would!).

But beyond that, it creates a realm of content possibilities around the most valuable asset in sports media – live rights. Rolapp sees the growth in the NFL Media business coming through live games and the digital and TV platforms that fuel NFL fandom during all the hours that professional football games aren’t being played.

If the Thursday Night Football game is Steelers-Ravens, for instance, starting Monday NFL Now could roll out featured content that augments that live asset. Would I be interested in a cut-up of the 20 best Steelers-Ravens clips ever? What about a written piece on Ben Roethlisberger with old Big Ben clips spliced in? What about a highlight reel of the best of Ray Lewis against Pittsburgh? What about a documentary short that tells a good story from the rivalry that’s gone overlooked? Yes – to all of that and more.

It’s a fascinating world to be in, this one where old content vaults are unleashed and made accessible again to fans through new technology. I think we will continue to see this in different forms (text, video, audio) and ranging in scale.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email:

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Nick Bilton’s ‘Hatching Twitter,’ part I

We’ve got two new books in the mix currently, and let’s start with the one I’m most excited about (and thoroughly enjoying): Nick Bilton’s ‘Hatching Twitter: A true story of money, power, friendship and betrayal.’

Bilton, a tech reporter and columnist for The New York Times, chronicles the founding and development of Twitter – and the disintegration of friendships among the founders – in a way that reads like a human story and nothing like a “tech book.” But that’s a point I’m going to save for the second post.

For now, let’s introduce the four original founders, which Bilton spends the first 70 or so pages of the book doing – Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone.

Williams – or “Ev,” as he is called – is an early favorite to me if only because he’s named after a bourbon. ‘Jack Daniels’ is the only cooler and more timeless alcohol-related name I can think of that would actually work for a person (if you want to make a case for a first-name only musician named ‘Tanqueray,’ I’ll listen, but first-name only is sort of cheating).

Anyway, Ev became known in the tech world for creating Blogger – a self-publishing site – and introducing the word “blog” to the Internet. Since a blog network where anyone could publish anything never existed before, nobody could anticipate the overwhelmingly negative reaction Blogger would receive when publishers wrote about highly offensive topics. But Ev had a motto – “push-button publishing for the people” – that he would not sacrifice, and in turn this made Blogger’s popularity explode. Soon, more than a million blogs were hosted on the network and Ev became something of a public figure in this little Silicon Valley world.

Ev would end up selling Blogger to Google for tens of millions of dollars, making him a tech celeb or sorts and guy with the cash to invest in other startups. He would end up investing in Noah Glass’ podcasting project – a move he did despite suspecting beforehand that becoming business partners could messy up a genuine friendship – and over time they would grow completely apart, with wildly differing business sensibilities making them incompatible in the same company and the hunt for power turning the business uncivilized.

By chance, Noah lived across the street from Ev and came to know him and the programmers who were working on Blogger. Some of them would go out drinking, and Ev and Noah developed the friendship that would later be torn apart. Noah’s initial podcasting project, called AudBlog, allowed users to publish voice-based posts to their blogs from their phones. When Noah wanted to make AudBlog an official start-up company, Ev provided the initial funding for a company they would call Odeo with the primary function being people would make those podcasts and share them through downloads on the then-new iPod.

Before long, Ev, wildly rich from his Google stock, stepped back to enjoy the lavish life now afforded to him in his early 30s and Noah led the building of Odeo. The problem? Noah wasn’t much for a CEO. He was an extremely energetic, even sometimes spastic, idea guy, a brilliant mind meant to take direction, not necessarily give it. He would end up running through Odeo’s first lump of funding and going back to Ev for more money, which Ev granted with one condition: that Noah hand over the title of CEO of Odeo to Ev.

There’s an important theme buried in that request: the danger of ego. Ev didn’t truly love Odeo, and he didn’t believe in podcasting like he did blogging. But his own pride forced him into believing that if he didn’t want to be seen as a one-hit wonder in the tech world, then he needed to hit a second homerun. He was already the guy who essentially invented blogging and took it mainstream. Could you imagine his legacy if he recreated the future of radio in a digital world? That was the impetus of Ev’s interest in being Odeo CEO, and that, of course, would prove to be costly.

Jack is the most compelling character of the Twitter story, an utterly brilliant and socially awkward guy from St. Louis. He grew up with a speech impediment, which turned him inward towards his computer from an early age. He’d ride around St. Louis’ public buses, endlessly fascinating with structure and systems.

He had a nose ring and a tattoo on his right leg that symbolized an anarchist group and – you won’t believe this – would never be great at adhering to Ev’s power at Twitter. A driving force of the book would be Jack and Ev’s battle for Twitter CEO, with both bringing necessary attributes. Jack always thought Twitter was more about the status of the user – “What I’m doing right now” – and Ev believed the tool’s purpose was less egocentric than that, with the focus being more on the user’s surrounding environment – “What is happening right now.”

There was never any question about Jack’s ability to be a visionary in the tech realm, but he wasn’t naturally adept at leading people and he wasn’t a businessman like Ev was. One of the most amazing facts of Twitter’s story (to me anyway) was how long it took to start driving revenue. For an excruciatingly long time, the service had millions of users and made zero money.

Ultimately, Jack’s thirst for power and fame and – no coincidence here, given his vision of Twitter – status led him down a path of getting booted from Twitter, starting another company and then returning to Twitter in an ugly string of events. Like most of the characters in this book, being a high-ranking executive at company quickly taking its places among the world’s most influential and being filthy rich were not enough for Jack at one time or another.

Biz is the most charming of the four original founders. He grew up poor in suburban Boston with a violent (when not absentee) father, and instead of becoming an introverted, broken young man, he became a funny and engaging prankster. Part of Biz’s humor was a façade, of course – using jokes to avoid confrontation – but that was certainly a genuineness to it. Biz had see bad, so he was able to see good much more easily than most as he grew older.

He got a job at Google after it had acquired Blogger, and the only thing that made that relationship work was Ev. Biz didn’t have the personality to be a cutthroat corporate type, so Ev – who empowered and entrusted his employees from the start – was the perfect boss for him. Biz became indebted to Ev and would spend the coming years watching Ev’s back and following him wherever he went – even trading in $2 million in unvested Google stock for the opportunity to work with Ev when he left for Odeo.

The greed and power-hungry personalities drive the entire narrative Bilton has constructed around Twitter’s story, and Biz is undeniably less central to the story. But I find his humor and lightness and emotional vulnerability to be a vital sense of freshness in a story that can leave you exhausted by the rampant running of ego.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email:

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