SAN FRANCISCO-Twitter CEO Evan Williams deftly maneuvered around questions about what Twitter's revenue model will ultimately be in a conversation at the Web 2.0 Summit that failed to live up to expectations.
Web 2.0 Summit co-host John Battelle tried to crack the nut that is Twitter's plan to make money. Williams merely repeated what he and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone have been telling the press and analysts for the last several months.
Twitter will enable advertising on its microblogging service at some point and could in fact provide analytics to give businesses insight into their businesses.
Battelle kicked off the questioning with: "Everybody wants to know what your revenue model is going to be. So, what is your revenue model going to be?"
Williams said Twitter wouldn't raise as much money as it did without some plausible solutions to providing a return on investment. However, he said his team is spending 97 percent of its effort on improving the product and technology. Twitter in September banked a new round of funding, raising the company's valuation to $1 billion.
But Williams, echoing the vague responses Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg provided about a business model at the Web 2.0 Summit in 2007, didn't really provide an answer, so Battelle repeated his question, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd. Battelle recalled Google's AdWords and AdSense platforms when he suggested Twitter could add text links to Twitter pages and let other businesses offer the same engine.
"Sort of like TweetWords and TweetSense," Battelle said, drawing more titters from the audience. Williams' rejoinder? A tongue-in-cheek: "I don't think it's worked for anyone else."
Battelle said Twitter might want to follow in Facebook's footsteps and build a large sales force, providing solutions for brand marketers on and off the Facebook domain. Williams said there might be some advertising in the mix, echoing past comments. He did allow that companies such as Dell disperse promotional information on Twitter that is "theoretically monetizable."
Williams said the analytics offering was interesting, but hard to nail down because of Twitter's mix of consumers and business users. Some of this could be ceded to third-party developers, he said.
Williams also said Twitter will retire the suggested user feature once Twitter Lists, the emerging grouping feature, rolls out to the tweeting masses. "Lists enables new use cases; it drives discovery not only for new users, but for old users."
In another line of questioning, Battelle asked Williams whether he had second thoughts about selling the company to Facebook or Google, the company he sold Blogger to. Not at all, Williams said, adding:
""I didn't see a reason to sell if that opportunity would have presented itself because ... it's not the point. The point is really to see what we can build. ... The number of interesting things we can do with Twitter is endless. It blows my mind, and that doesn't get more interesting by making it part of a bigger company.""
This drew a sound round of applause. Battelle also noted that Facebook has added "Twitterific" features, baiting Williams with the prospect that Facebook is ripping off Twitter's innovation in status streams. Williams didn't bite, and even complimented Facebook for being agile in changing the product.
"The world is big enough for Facebook and Twitter, and fundamentally I think they're good at different things," Williams said. Whatever Facebook does, it won't mean the death of Twitter, he added.
Finally, Williams said the company is working on improving scalability, noting that while he is not as concerned as he used to be, he is not satisfied with where Twitter is on that front. Reliability is the second big priority.
All in all, a bland, vanilla interview. Williams even called Google Wave, the real-time collaboration platform that is confounding users, awesome.
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