Keep it Simple, Genius

In the interest of simplicity, allow me to cut to the chase. Want to be rich? Invent the smallest thing possible and figure out how to get a healthy percentage of the world's population to use it.

Easy, right? Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter and a guy about to be worth $1.4 billion, would probably say it only looks easy now that he can afford to buy Paraguay and give it to his mom for Christmas.

But, did Ev (short for Evan, as if a four-letter name needed shortening) know how diabolically simple the world's best social media network would look without the benefit of hindsight?


Ev and Co. are the first to admit that they had a different notion of what Twitter would be back when nobody was using it. They had lots of ideas for features, a working theory about the demographic most likely to adopt it, and plans for monetization that have little to do with today's reality.

The lesson here is simple (no pun intended). Twitter is what the rest of us say it is. Twitter is a platform that invites the user to make of it what he or she wishes, as long as it doesn't exceed 140 characters or color outside the narrow boundaries of formatting foisted upon each and every tweet in an egalitarian-cum-socialist enforcement of the "everybody is special, therefore no one is" style guide.

That last detail presents an interesting piece of symmetry. Not only is the platform itself the epitome of simplicity, so is the way in which people interact with it.

As an example, I give you Conan O'Brien, who just hit 9 million followers. I, on the other hand, have considerably fewer. But aside from that snazzy blue checkmark he's sporting, my awesome tweets have the exact same visual impact as his. He can't shout louder than I; use his considerable fortune to embellish his tweets to overshadow mine; or convey any greater brilliance, depravity, or insight than me, except by use of the tools we have in common.

The same but different: Conan O'Brien and Kevin Jacoby use the same Twitter tools to share their thoughts.

It's beautiful, is it not? Mr. Williams and his friends, in the face of all the pomp and circumstance the web has to offer, eschewed every superfluous atom, choosing instead to deliver to the world the simplest form of communication possible, yet one that somehow carried with it infinite possibilities.

Folks, the world is getting more complex. Macroeconomics is a riddle with no answer, the Internet is fast approaching 4 billion pages, and modern technology is replete with so many layers that science fiction can't keep up with our need to imagine things we are not yet able to produce.

So do the world a favor and simplify. Bravely peel away the layers until you find the pith. Marvel at its simplicity and ask yourself, not how you can embellish, but how you can summon the strength not to. A fool craves adornment, a genius only a simple robe.

KJ is a bass player and singer-songwriter (like Sting, only taller); co-founder of Sessionville; and all too fond of sushi and Doritos®.