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Twitter VP Jason Goldman steps down (and gives his thoughts on what made Twitter a success)

December 8, 2010 | 11:50 am

Jason Goldman, Twitter's longtime vice president of product, announced his resignation Wednesday on stage at the Le Web Internet conference in Paris.

Goldman, who oversaw the launch of Twitter's redesign, said he needed a break.

His departure comes shortly after Twitter co-founder Evan Williams stepped down as the San Francisco company’s chief executive to focus on product strategy.

"I've just announced to the entire company last Friday that I'll be leaving Twitter at the end of the month," Goldman said in a conversation with TechCrunch's MG Siegler. "We've grown a lot over the past few years, but it's a good time for me to step down, although I'll still be involved as an advisor for a while. I'm not leaving to start something new, and I'm not going to join Facebook or Google."

He added: "I'm not going to say I need to spend more time with my family –- as it only consists of my girlfriend and two cats –- but I just need a bit of a break."

I interviewed Goldman about his tenure at Twitter in September. In that interview,  I asked him if his bachelor's degree in astrophysics from Princeton had come in handy. (His undergraduate thesis was on "X-Ray Clusters, Baryon Fraction and the Mass-Density of the Universe.")

"I don't get to use my knowledge of galactic formations as much as I would hope," he said, laughing.

Goldman has worked with Williams since 2002, when they collaborated on a blogging start-up that Williams sold to Google in 2003. Goldman joked that he had spent the better part of his career working for a college drop-out. That was awkward for Williams (as well as Twitter co-founder Biz Stone) when they were at Google, which is known for its intense scrutiny of academic credentials and prowess.

"In the early days of Twitter, all three of the co-founders never graduated from college. I felt like the token Ivy League student," Goldman joked. “I obviously wasted my money on higher education."

Goldman Goldman said he knew from the first time he tried Twitter that he had to work on it. "I saw in the product something similar to what I liked about blogs. By virtue of the fact that there was this unknown public audience, people pitched their voice in a slightly different way and revealed something about themselves. People talk differently than they do in an e-mail or text message."

That point was driven home to him when his mom used Blogger to tell stories about growing up in St. Louis. "I learned things I had never heard before," he recalled. "With Twitter I saw an even more pure strain of that idea. And that idea could benevolently trick people into being observers of the world and to share what’s going on in the world, to be the eyes and ears of the human experience. I thought that was cool."

As an early employee of Twitter, he probably could have been @jason. He picked up his Twitter moniker "Goldman," while working on Blogger. "There were six people working at Blogger when Google bought us. Three of them were named Jason. So I was always called Goldman."

The first time he used Twitter was on a trip to Las Vegas with five friends, all of whom were on Twitter. He quit Google three months later, traveled for five months to goof off and then joined Twitter in February 2007 as director of product strategy. "It was clear to me that this was going to be a really fun product to work on," he said. "But I had no expectation that it would be as successful as it has been."

Within his first month of working at Twitter, it "shot off like a rocket" at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, he said. It was the first time that Twitter had enough critical mass of users in one place to see all the ways it could be used and how it could influence behavior. "If someone would say that this bar was crowded, everyone would move to another bar. Whole groups of people moved, based on these messages. That was the extension of consciousness that the product embodies. You could begin to understand the world in real time. The real-time power of the product became apparent."

From then on, the Twitter co-founders, who had originally intended to build other products as well, "basically got married to Twitter," Goldman said.

Over the last two years, Twitter clearly became an information network that "delivers interesting, relevant timelines to people about the people and places that matter to you," Goldman said. "Giving people better information about the world around them and the things they care about has become the cornerstone of the product offering."

Asked about his personal highlights at Twitter, Goldman said: "We have a number of remarkable things that happen daily now, and not things we envisioned originally. We didn't imagine ... Kanye West joining Twitter or the press secretary of the White House talking on Twitter in a personal and authentic way."

He said he wasn't surprised that it took West such a long time to see the point of Twitter.

"We're working very hard to make that value more transparent," he said. "It's certainly not my philosophy that users should have to work hard to understand what it's for. If you have to be in on the joke, if you have to work hard to get the value of it, that's not the hallmark of success. It should be immediately tangible why this is good. I had that experience with the product the first time I used it, but we can do better."

"I compare the evolution of Twitter to the evolution of media generally. When new media comes along, it has its weaknesses. Other examples historically are the telephone. 'Why would I want this box in my home that rings and people's voices emanate from it when, if it's worth saying, I can send it in a telegram?' There was a huge push-back to television; people were more comfortable with radio. There's still a push-back to the Internet. I think it makes sense that sometimes it's hard to find the place in our lives that new media occupies. That's something we have to work at."

"Just delivering a raw stream ultimately is not enough," he said. Twitter has to find a way to make the experience richer for users by surfacing the content most relevant and important to them, he said. "That's why people keep coming back."

RELATED:

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-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Jason Goldman. Credit: Joi Ito

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