Exclusive: Techvibes interviews #NewTwitter team lead

“Process and talent won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have a team that shares a vision and trusts and respects each other. – Kevin Cheng – @k – Sept 28 2010.”

Before Kevin Cheng started working with Twitter he was a user.  And a huge fan too.  How big of user was he?  Well, his Twitter handle is @k.  That’s what you would call an early adopter.

Prior to working with Twitter, Kevin worked for California-based Raptr.  Raptr is a social tool that makes it easier to play games with friends online.

Today, Kevin is the project lead for the web team at Twitter.  Which means Kevin’s team actually led the development of #NewTwitter.  Yeah.  That #NewTwitter.

In fact, while we were speaking, I asked Kevin jokingly, “When am I getting the new Twitter?”  In less than 5 seconds I refreshed my Twitter homepage. Presto! New Twitter!  Kevin explained that if I was going to take the time to talk with him and write about what he was doing, the least he could do was make sure I had the “new” Twitter.  Swell guy.

I asked Kevin about his role with Twitter and what it’s like working for one of the web’s latest darlings. “Twitter is easily the best job I’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been in the industry.”


Kevin attributes it to how Twitter approaches corporate culture and over-arching philosophy.

Kevin told me that one of the mantras at Twitter is to be a force for good – both internally and externally.  At Twitter, employees can expect to work in a positive and co-operative environment. There is a respectful and mature, yet fun culture that enables everyone to perform at the best of their ability.

Kevin suggested that other startups may not practice what they preach.  Many may say they’re fun but internally the culture can be very competitive and not conducive to effective teamwork.

Here is how Kevin describes the work environment at Twitter:

He illustrated how they all work in small teams kind of like startups of our own.  On his team Kevin’s role is to set-up a road map and set the agenda.

Kevin’s team was actually fully involved in the creation and implementation of #NewTwitter.  On his team, he was the project lead and had a number of designers working away on creating a new user experience for Twitter.com users.

Kevin actually stressed that the focus of his team was to focus on improving the experience of using Twitter for their users. 

New Twitter

I asked Kevin why Twitter even bothered to create a new user experience.

“We looked at how people were using us.  One of our priorities is user experience and reliability.  We wanted to make it easier to use with a faster and richer user experience.  Based on feedback we think we have been successful.”

Was there ever a thought that the Twitter community would be unhappy with the redesign?

“Sometimes there could be backlash on redesign; even if it’s better. We have received mainly positive reaction.  And there are people are also asking for it!”

What about the long term focus of Twitter.  I asked Kevin if there is a bigger picture that Twitter focuses on.  “Interesting question.  We want to build a real time info network that helps people to discover what good in their life.”

We also discussed a few other issues:

You once called Twitter a medium rather than a service.  What did you mean by this and do you still believe it?

“Twitter is a communication medium like TV, radio, IM, email, etc.  It’s a way we communicate with each other. And because Twitter is a real time information network, people are free to use it when they want it and discover whatever it is they care about.”

“If anything Twitter is a triumph of humanity not technology.”

Why are many people (outside Twitter) concerned with the issue of monetization?  

“Obviously Twitter is a business. However, we are focused on creating the best user experience possible first.  Inevitably, after we prove this value we can then go to businesses.  We will try promoted tweets and promoted trends.  And if our users don’t like it, it will disappear.”