5 Questions Interview: Mike Langford of Tweetworks

One of the greatest and worst things about Twitter is the constant stream of conversation. It’s constantly changing. Yeah you can search to find posts you are interested in but I always thought there should be an easier way to connect with people who have like-minded interests and to follow a conversation that was threaded rather than searching for hashtags to follow the conversation. Hashtags are so MS-DOS, they’re like the mullet haircut – completely out of style and outdated even while it was popular. Which is why I was SO happy to find Tweetworks. I think Tweetworks will bring Twitter to the mass audience of internet users in a way that they can understand.

This 5 Question Interview is with Mike Langford who is the CEO, Founder and Funder of Tweetworks LLC. Mike is a serial entrepreneur with passion for making a difference in peoples lives. Something many people don’t know about Mike is he LOVES to talk. He claims it’s genetic and that if you meet his Grandmother, parents or his young son you’ll be left with no doubt that he’s a born talker. One on one or in front of a crowd, he thrives on conversation. (Tweetworks seems a natural fit now doesn’t it?)

Eric Guerin: Because Tweetworks is a new user interface for Twitter which uses 140 characters or less per update…can you describe what Tweetworks is in 140 characters or less?

Mike Langford: Tweetworks helps you talk with people who like to talk about the things you like to talk about.

EG: Threaded conversations on Tweetworks really make following conversations much easier. On Twitter you used to have to use a hashtag and then search for the conversation on a separate site which seemed like such an archaic way of having a conversation in this day and age. Can you explain how threaded conversations work on Tweetworks and how you came up with the concept for it?

ML: We capture, store and associate all posts made on Tweetworks in a relational database prior to passing them on to Twitter. What makes Tweetworks different than Twitter is the way we approach conversations. The way posts are presented on Twitter is as if each tweet were an independent and unrelated thought. In reality, a great deal of what is posted on Twitter is a reply to a previous statement. And in many cases you’ll find several different people replying to a single post made by one person.

I noticed early on that people like to crowd source on Twitter. It seems logical, you’ve got hundreds or in some cases thousands of people as a resource pool why not ask them stuff? The problem, as I found out, is that a Twitter user needs to be a social media celebrity like Chris Brogan or Guy Kawasaki to have a reasonable expectation of receiving a significant number of responses. Why? Think of it for a minute, Twitter only displays 20 posts at a time. And while you can click older, or use a desktop app like Tweetdeck or Twhirl which allow for easier scrolling the challenge remains, your followers are only seeing 10 to 20 tweets at a time. What this means for the average Twitter user is that he needs to hope that his followers just happen to be looking at the screen when his tweet hits. And with many people following hundreds of people that list of 20 tweets is refreshing pretty quickly. In short, the odds aren’t in your favor for a robust and inclusive discussion with Twitter’s current format.

So I thought, what if we created a way for people to start a discussion or ask a question and have the stream stay together? Then I thought, what if anyone, not just followers, could participate in the discussion? I mean, the only reason I have this weird follower/following thing going on is so I can have a reasonable prospect of having a conversation when I’m on Twitter right? So, we decided to remove the follower contingency and open it up. On Tweetworks conversation is king.

EG: One of the coolest features you have on Tweetworks are public and private “Groups”. Can you explain what the groups are and how they work?

ML: The randomness of Twitter is fun and super cool but it has it’s limitations. As human beings we tend to group things. Believe it or not it is this tendency that leads most people to follow the people they follow. You go to a conference on a certain topic like say a Pod Camp and you meet a bunch of new friends who like to talk about social media. So, you follow them because you had fun talking about social media. But, now your timeline is filled with tweets from these people on a whole bunch of other crap you have no interest in. At Tweetworks we thought a better approach would be to allow people to talk about what they like to talk about when they want to talk about it with other people who like to talk about the same stuff. To accomplish this we allow users to form or join whatever public group they’d like.

The private groups are a little different in that we add the ability to control the “who” part of the conversations that take place inside the group. Private groups are very useful for businesses, clubs, fantasy sports leagues, and sensitive topics.

EG: Unlike many social media tools I was impressed that you already have a plan & outline for eventual monetization, can you briefly discuss this?

ML: The point of starting a business is to earn money isn’t it? I’m not a software engineer with crazy coding skills that sat down one day and thought Tweetworks would be a cool mashup project. I found myself seeing a real problem that if solved would create real value. If Tweetworks is successful in creating value then we should put in place mechanisms to be compensated so we can continue to provide value to our users. I think it is a shame that people create these amazing tools and they eventually have to shut down because they simply could not afford to support the large number of users that adopted their creation. Look no further that Quotably, it was very popular but it is no more. While Ben Tucker cites Twitter’s pipe access as a reason for the shut down, I assume he would have found a work around if the venture were profitable.

Okay, enough pontificating on the why we have a revenue model let’s get to it. Tweetworks has two revenue sources, Pro Accounts and Group Sponsorship.

Pro Account: We rolled out unlimited private group access as our first Pro Account offering. For $24.95/yr a user will be able to have as many private Tweetworks groups as he would like.
Group Sponsorship: Tweetworks groups are available for sponsorship by businesses or individuals. We use the term sponsor because it carries a different weight and expectation than advertiser. On Tweetworks a sponsor will have its profile, or custom copy, displayed prominently in the Group Information Bar and their tweets will be highlighted when displayed in the group. This allows the sponsor to stand out in the crowd of tweets that are relevant to its business. It is our expectation that sponsors will be active and responsible participants in the community (group) in which they sponsor. For the other participants in the community having an active sponsor should feel much less intrusive than straight advertising. To start Sponsorship packages will be priced at 3 days for $45, 7 days at $84, and $150 for 15 days. The flat package pricing will make it simple and easy for a sponsor to jump in and get started.

EG: I know Tweetworks is only in its initial launch phase, what cool new features can we expect next?

ML: One of our next steps is to create and open up our API so that desktop, mobile and other third party applications can port into Tweetworks. We are walking that weird line of needing to include the early adopters of Twitter and staying true to our value proposition. Some people REALLY want us to bring the all of their followers’ activity into Tweetworks and we aren’t planning to do that. But, if we either partnered with an existing desktop application such as Twhirl or Tweetdeck, or develop our own we could make these people happy and still provide the robust Tweetworks experience. It is important to remember that there are millions of registered user names on Twitter but the majority of the population has no idea what it is and why they should consider using it. In the end, it is these new users that will make up the bulk of our customers.

Some other cool things we are working on are RSS feeds for groups and activity notification. We’ve had several requests from people who would like to post their group’s activity on an external website and we think that is a great idea. We’ve also noticed that some users come to the site, participate in a group and then we don’t see them for a while. The challenge with a new community is that it takes some time for the party to heat up. We need to work hard to get people to come to Tweetworks and revisit frequently enough so we build up momentum. We are getting there, I am very pleased with the success we are having so far.

EG: Thanks Mike!

To those of you reading who have been hesitant to check out Twitter or been intimidated by it, go check out Tweetworks. I highly recommend it.

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