Twitter co-founder speaks to Columbia

By Colin Shively

In the dimly-lit room of Film Row Cinema at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., the silhouttes of 300-plus guests sat in chairs facing the stage. As the lights came on, a few faces were lit by cell phones as they quickly sent a message on Twitter. As Columbia President Warrick L. Carter stood up, the room went silent as he introduced the evening’s guest speaker—Biz Stone, the co-founder of the popular micro-blogging site Twitter.

On Oct. 6, Columbia hosted the fith annual “Conversations in the Arts” where this year’s theme is Media Arts in the 21st Century. As the first of three seminars kicked off, Columbia proudly hosted Stone as the opening speaker to focus on the world of new and social media.

As Stone, 35, took the stage, his demeanor and casual appearance were not those of a man named one of the top 100 most influential minds in the world by Time magazine or one that helped create social networking sites such as Xanga and Google’s Blogger. He was relaxed, yet an air of authority distinctly surrounded him. It was clear that once he started speaking, the audience wanted to hear what he had to say.

“Twitter is the people’s never-ending response for the need to communicate,” Stone said. “We are moving into an era where we need to be able to make decisions in real-time, which means we need the tools to support that type of behavior.”

Stone said Twitter is not just one story, but multiple small stories and events that lead up to its concept and design, and it started in his high school.

Viewing himself as an artist first and techie second, Stone described how his childhood and schooling helped create his passion for taking a leading role in communication and creating a new connection that has been embraced by the world.

As he continued his lecture, Stone began to talk about how in the future, social media and networking will provide information to the public, eliminating the need for people to directly search for what they want to know—in short, news will find us, we won’t

find the news.

“I have begun to joke internally that now Twitter is the search results you didn’t know you needed until we gave it to you,” Stone said. “With our search and discovery mechanisms we are building, we know things that you might very well not know.  We are getting there with small improvements to provide information for you.”

For more than an hour, the audience listened intently to how  Twitter has faced many challenges and successes since it became available for the world to use.

Every so often, a flicker of light would appear as an audience member Tweeted, momentarily entering the world that Stone helped create.

One of main criticisms of Twitter is how it is thought to be the main cause of newspapers and traditional

journalism dying.

“I think there is a really exciting possibility for something complimentary,” Stone said. “We exist to be complimentary. At Twitter, we see ourselves working with mobile networks, social networks, television networks and news networks to make each other better in some way. There is a ton that we can do with a news organization. We are still in our exploratory phase.”

At the end of the lecture, Stone said when people look back at Twitter, he hopes that they don’t view it as the end of human-to-human communication, but an evolution  of human communication.

“Conversations in the Arts” is now in its fifth year and this year it is going to focus on subjects related to the college’s School of Media Arts.

‘Conversations in the Arts’ is a program series that offers in-depth dialogue with some of the world’s most notable cultural figures in a select and intimate setting,” said Diana Cazares, the director of Event Operations and director for the program series. “This season’s speakers address major trends and issues in the world of media, including social media, journalism and the moving image.”

With more than 300 staff and students attending the evening lecture, Cazares is confident in knowing that this season’s speakers will cater and appeal to a vast part of Columbia’s students and faculty.

Future speakers for the 2009 – 2010 media-focused “Conversations in the Arts” series will be Arianna Huffingtion, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post news Web site, and Mira Nair, director of the films Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding and Amelia.