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TED talk: Twitter & the power of the unexpected

Evan You never know how users will end up using your technology. Sometimes they end up using your product in creative ways that you could not possibly have thought of on your own. This is why many entrepreneurs learned to embrace the idea of "letting a thousand flowers bloom," an idea that people like Guy Kawasaki have been preaching seemingly forever. "When people use your product in an entirely new way, embrace the change," Kawasaki often says. This is an important tenet of evangelism. In this short presentation below, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams talks about a similar idea: growth coming from unexpected uses invented by users themselves. The presentation itself is simple and short (you can see some snaps I took below), but mainly I thought the topic itself was interesting and timely. I don't know if there is really a "right way" to Twitter (see this David Pogue article), but it's certainly a segment of social media that is misunderstood in spite of its simplicity. My favorite part of Twitter? Being limited to only 140 characters. Watch the talk below or here on TED.

One's person's view from the audience.
Below are a few snaps I took from the audience (I could have uploaded one of these to my Posterous page live which would have appeared as a Tweet as well in only a couple of seconds, but I didn't).*

My favorite bit is after the presentation when Chris Anderson takes to the stage and points to a live shot of Twitter and examples of tweets of this actual talk. I love Chris' tongue-in-cheek tweet the best (last one on the page).

• Chris Anderson's Twitter page

• Presentation Zen Twitter page

• TED Talks Twitter page
• How to talk while people are Twittering (TED Blog)

* (Note: I would have twittered and uploaded photos from my iPhone in Long Beach, but the price is far too great for my fellow Japanese iPhone users and me when we visit the States (and I imagine vice versa). I'm still recovering from the shock of a $2200 iPhone bill for two weeks of use in the US at Christmas (only $50 of it was for phone use). This was about 45x my normal monthly bill in Japan racked up in two weeks: live and learn.)


Michael Sporer

Just started tweeting. It is an awesome little app! The presentation also shows the power of simple. Simple visuals really help drive the point home when used right. His talk was not flamboyant at all, but very effective.

John Herbert

TED is great, but surely that's enough TED presentation analysis. thanks

Chris H

Hey Gary,
If you were at TED, wouldn't you have presented? Where's a copy of your presentation?

Rus Howser

I have to agree with John. As much as I enjoy TED, it is only one style of presentation.

I teach business presentation, and while there is a lot to learn about delivery skills from the TEDsters, they are all doing a variation on the educational presentation.

How about taking a look at some skilled technical or business related presentations, like this one:

Oliver (ReThink)

Hi Garr, thanks for reviewing the TED presentation, I took a look into it right after. It does bring new "twideas" to mind.

I've only recently started using Twitter since very few friends of mine have jumped on it.

Man, $2200?? That had to hurt! Really sorry about that...


Nick Morgan

Hi, Garr --

As a confirmed Twitter addict I'm fascinated by the communities and sub-communities that Twitter creates. Humans have this intense need to gather in groups, and I believe that the need to gather is all the more intense because so much of our lives is virtual now. Twitter and other social media can substitute for -- but not completely displace -- the need for face-to-face meeting. There are certain things that can only happen in that space. I write about this in my new book, Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma.

Buzz V


FYI "let a thousand flowers bloom" is not a positive message if you know what happened to the original "blossoms" in 1950's China. Many of the best and brightest that responded to the call were imprisoned or executed. I always think of this phrase as a competitive honeypot used by market dominators to squash fledgling competition.

Travis Dahle


I also love the aspect of Twitter that it has to be 144 characters or less. Using it in presentations can be a great way to get short responses on questions you ask or evaluations...I'm excited to see how people are going to use it not only for their daily use, but also for their presentations.


Hey Garr -

Just to notify an error in your article - Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters, not 144.

Sebastiano Mereu

I believe that microblogging a la Twitter will be dominating the blogosphere in the near future. Many people just don't have the time to read all entries from their favorite blogs. 140 characters is 20 characters less than what we can type in a SMS (short message service) and that is a perfect size to transmit a compact message as fast as possible to your friends and followers. - About one week ago, a Turkish Airline plane crashed in Amsterdam and the first picture that was made public was a picture taken by someone who saw the accident happen and uploaded a picture on TwitPic. Even CNN used that picture. And that is only one example that proves the power of microblogging.

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