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10 Questions: Jack Dorsey on Square, Twitter on 9/11 & Social Media ‘Experts’ Without Souls

Last Friday I was fortunate to spend 30 minutes talking with Jack Dorsey, who in addition to co-founding Twitter recently launched a product & service called Square. As an electronic device, Square is a mobile credit card reader that plugs into the audio port of compatible smart phones and laptops. As a service, Square is a downloadable application that verifies sellers and provides buyers a measure of security about the transaction itself. From small businesses to political campaigns, the potential applications for Square are virtually unlimited.

A few highlights and then the interview after the jump. Also strongly recommended: Friday Coffee with Square on Ustream

  1. Why we were better off without Twitter on September 11th 2001: “One thing I was really inspired by after 9/11, especially in NYC is how people gathered and really sought each other out face to face…. My concern with relying on the technology would be that it would potentially abstract some of that humanness, and make it a little bit easier not to go out in the streets and not to go out meet your neighbors and really support each other.”

  2. What Wired.com Got Wrong: No PayPal v. Square Deathmatch: “We want to be completely payment network agnostic, so if you're really comfortable using PayPal and you want to pay (or receive) with it… but you still want the Square front end experience, that is something we would be interested in implementing and maintaining."

  3. Top Politicos on Twitter: Barham Salih,  Cory BookerMike Bloomberg,  Francis Slay.

  4. Why ‘Social Media Experts’ using Auto-Follow Services Have No Souls: While Jack was more diplomatic in his phrasing, if you're doing something against the "fundamental spirit of the technology,” for me, that is red flag. That is not to say paid advertising of an organizations account is a bad idea, but the whole idea of paying for followers / friends is somewhat repugnant: “I think any sort of automation or any sort of aspect like that really takes away from the spirit of the technology which is to really share what you think, what your experiencing, what is happening around you. I think there is a lot of people in the social media space that are trying to consult against that, and I am fully supportive or that.

  5. Advice for Entrepreneurs: Communicate, Build Something People Need:  In response to a question about production delays and software issues, Jack said his biggest challenge since starting Square has been: “Communicating in the right way what is actually out there today, what works and what still needs some work” In regards to supply problems with Square, I asked Jack if he had considered domestic supplies  “The only reason we picked China is because we could not find anyone in the U.S. to do it…”


Jack Dorsey Debuts @Square Mobile Payment Device in D.C.

On Tuesday evening Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey attended a fundraising reception for Missouri Congressional Candidate Tommy Sowers to officially debut his latest invention, Square which currently allows anyone with an Iphone, Android or laptop to send or accept payments for just about anything. Mobile credit card readers are not new. However what sets Square apart from the competition is:

  1. Compact size- About the size of your thumb, or 1.5” long, 1” deep and 3.5” tall   
  2. Electronic Receipts with Location. After a purchase you immediately get an email receipt for what you bought and where you bought it.
  3. Square is free. No additional hardware, applications or monthly service fees.
  4. Low transaction cost. Square charges 2.75% + 15¢ for swiped transactions. (Paypal is 2.9% +.30 cents for transactions under $3,000.)

In terms of Jack’s inspiration for Square, (as well as Twitter) I highly recommend watching his June 2nd speech to the 99% Conference . A few highlights:

  • “Payments, and the exchange of money is inherently social, it is another form of communication- So why isn’t it designed and treated as such. That was one of the reasons we started Square.”
  • The financial crisis created the opening for Square: “The situation allowed us to quickly seek out all the people we needed to talk to, at the banks, at the government, the card brands.  Everyone in the financial world was suddenly in survival mode, looking for innovation, looking for new things, looking for new business models.”
  • “90% of the country paying with plastic card of some sort, but only 2% of the country can accept payments with those cards. So what if we turn on the other side, what happens and what does that interface look like”
  • For Twitter: The @ symbol, ‘RT’ for re-tweets, # for hash tags and even the word ‘tweet’ were developed by the Twitter community, and initially resisted by Twitter.

In terms of the politics of the event, although announcing and presenting Square at last week’s Personal Democracy Forum would have been a larger, bi-partisan audience, when I asked Jack why he chose the Sowers event, his reply was essentially that while the Sowers fundraiser was a partisan event, that Square as a device and Twitter as a platform are available to the same degree to all sides equally. Secondly and more importantly though, he was impressed with the Sower’s campaign utilization of social media tools and that they were the first ones to reach out and ask for his help on the event. Also, being from St. Louis, he has a personal interest in Missouri’s representation. Furthermore,  not only does just about every senior staffer on the Sowers campaign maintain and use Twitter accounts , as far as I can recall I have never seen a political email written in Twitter speak that explicitly asks the reader:

Even if you can't make it, can you help make noise about this on twitter?  We want all of DC talking about this for weeks to come.

If you could tweet something like: "Please RT: @sowers and @jack at #sqdc TONIGHT, this is not an event to miss! http://bt.io/FN4u"

Be sure to use the event hashtag #sqdc.

More pictures bellow the jump:


Twitter Enters the Beltway: Social Media and Lobbying

Everywhere you look these days, you find the seemingly exponential growth of Twitter . After dominating the world of upcoming social media lately, Twitter is now looking to gain a powerful foothold outside of Silicon Valley. The company posted yesterday an opening for a "Government Liaison" in Washington D.C. Twitter says they are trying to make their product more effective for "policymakers, political organizations, and government officials and agencies." The listing notes that they are building a "public policy department" to influence lawmakers to support Twitter's policy needs with patent law, net neutrality, consumer privacy and more unforeseen issues.

Twitter is by no means the first social media company to try and conquer Capitol Hill.  Facebook has been heavily invested in lobbying for several causes in recent years. In June 2009, Facebook hired notable former ACLU senior counsel Timothy Sparapani to head their lobbying division in Washington and advocate for them to Congress. Facebook is the leader in confronting regulation of internet companies that collect, store and use people's personal data. Only eight months after they added a dedicated lobbyist, Facebook expanded their Washington division twice over, adding a "public policy manager" and "public policy associate" to the team.

However, when it comes to tech companies staking their claim to Washington, Google, as always, is the biggest kid on the block . Spending $1.38 million in the first quarter of 2010 alone on lobbying, Google has shown that they are willing to do what it takes to make the changes they want in Washington. John Simpson, from Consumer Watchdog, told Investor's Business Daily that Google is "one of the biggest high-rollers as far as lobbying goes". Still, they are up against even heavier hitters in the fight for net neutrality and privacy issues: main opponent AT&T spent a total of  $14.7 million in 2010, mostly in direct opposition to Google's efforts.

Another important player in the Washington tech-lobbying scene is Research In Motion , the Canadian telecommunications firm that manufacture the most necessary Washington accessory-the Blackberry. After paying out a $612 million settlement from a patent lawsuit in 2006, Research In Motion has stepped up it's lobbying efforts, doubling the size of their Washington team in 2009 and spending $675,000 in the first quarter of 2010, up from their fourth-quarter total of $545,000 last year. Most of this money has gone towards further patent disputes, and, according to the Associated Press , "legislation on an inventory of U.S. radio spectrum" and  "the trade of minerals from conflict-ridden countries like the Congo" which are used in their electronics.

Twitter has now entered the political spectrum, so we can most likely see more tweets sent from the halls of power in our Nation's Capital. However, their added presence to the already exploding field of tech lobbying may be a drop in the bucket compared to the efforts of huge multinational corporations who already have their pockets open in Washington.


A New Age of Crisis Reporting?: Media, the Oil Spill, and You

As the oil from the BP Gulf coast spill continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico, the attention of the nation seems to focus on it more and more. As one of the worst environmental disasters our country has ever seen, it is garnering huge media attention across platforms and is sure to be one of the biggest news stories of the year.  Now in the age of always-accessible information, people seeking factual, unbiased details from the spill area are left wanting.

The Washington Post reported last week that several major news organizations were being blocked from comprehensive coverage in myriad ways, including restriction of flight access and chaperoning of reporters in newly-restricted areas. Information has also been slowed by comprehensive gag orders written into contracts between BP and employees, including clean-up personnel and local boat owners. In addition, BP is "using paid search to influence public opinion" according to the Huffington Post . Every time a Google search is launched using relevant terms-including "oil spill", "gulf coast" and "BP disaster", the first sponsored link directs to BP's "Gulf of Mexico Response" page, offering corporate-tinged updates.

Although Admiral Thad Allen, National Incident Commander for the federal government, told ABC News' "This Week" that he produced a written order for the media to be allowed "uninhibited access", the mainstream media is still being blocked in several avenues. This is where you come in.

In the age of citizen journalists and Web 2.0, every-day people are stepping up to the challenge of reporting one of the worst environmental disasters of all time. Using facebook, twitter and brand new social media tools, non-credentialed civilians are keeping tabs on the spill and it's effects. The twitter hashtag "#oilspill" has been trending for weeks, with discussion spurred by pictures and tweets sent from the area affected by the spill. A Facebook group advocating for a boycott of BP has over 400,000 "likes" and user-uploaded photos of protests, affected animals and damaged coastline.

In addition, people looking for ways to document and share news of the spill have a brand new avenue-the mobile application OilReporter . Developed by CrisisCommons with Intridea and Appcelerator, OilReporter allows for mobile mapping, photo-documentation and real-time reporting of injured wildlife, oil-stricken beaches and wetlands. It even has a sliding scale with which the user can report exactly how much oil is in each location, and the ability to cross-check your location and information with the Federal Government, State Government, and Google Crisis Response data sources. With this new tool, normal people can report on the spill as it affects their lives directly, and share information with people all over the world concerned with the ramifications.

Oscar Sunday Gets Social on Facebook

As most of you may know, this Sunday is the 82nd Academy Awards.  While I’m not happy with some of the retro changes (let’s be honest and say that the ten Best Pic nominees could’ve been whittled down to four films, including one that was completely overlooked, The Informant) we’ll see in this weekend’s ceremony, I thought it was worth pointing out some new social media promotion tactics the Academy is trying out this year.

For the first time, the Oscars will broadcast red carpet coverage online, thanks to their partnership with Facebook, and will give users like you a chance to ask your favorite actor a question.  According to their page:

“We know you’re used to seeing stars at the Academy Awards®, but now for the very first time you can get involved! Oscar.com has partnered with Facebook to bring you Oscar.com Live from the Red Carpet, a very special online pre-show that allows you to watch the stars walk the Red Carpet and answer questions from fans like you. Yes, you read that right!

Join hosts Lisa Guerrero and Brett Chukerman as they cover all the action unfolding outside the Kodak Theater. Using your Facebook account, you can send a message to them on the Red Carpet, and they’ll pass along the best questions and comments in real time to the stars that sashay by. But that’s not all! Rico Rodriguez (Manny from the ABC hit comedy Modern Family) will also be on hand to meet and interview fans in attendance, as they experience all the glitz and glamour right from the Red Carpet.”

For viewers who like options and have either Facebook or Twitter log-ins, they can go to APLive and see streaming coverage there as well.   APLive is also making this available on their Facebook page, but users will have to become a fan in order to see the coverage, so it’ll be interesting to see if the 1,373 fans of the page jumps to a significantly higher number over the weekend** (See update).   This streaming event is the first of many for the year-long partnership between APLive and Livestream.

If you really feel like you need more connection to this year’s awards, there are a few iPhone Apps available for download for this (again, let’s be honest) very crowded awards year.   One thing I probably will be checking out this weekend is Adam Shankman’s Twitter feed, one of the two being promoted on Oscar.com.

I don’t want to sound pessimistic or snobby.  There were some great films this year and I’ll take a moment to throw out my top picks for Best Picture:

  1. Up (Pixar just knows how to pull at the heartstrings)
  2. Inglorious Basterds
  3. The Informant (what movie? Netflix it when it comes out later this month)
  4. An Education (probably my pick of the year)
  5. Honorable Mention: Drag Me to Hell (I’m not being cute here. It really is a great film.)

Update:  We all know the winner’s from last night’s ceremony.  Another Update**: AP Live’s Facebook page now has 7,672 fans.