Somebody asked me in New York last week what I was doing there. Did I find any corn fields? Hah, hah.
No, but, I did find one smart farm boy—Evan Williams, one of the most influential people in Internet publishing. Williams grew up on a farm near Clarks, Nebraska, attended the University of Nebraska, and at one time returned to the farm to work on a start-up business.
Currently CEO of Obvious Corporation, Williams has founded several Internet companies. Two of the Internet's top ten websites have been created by his companies: Twitter and Blogger. Williams is credited with inventing the term "blogger,” a key word in our Internet language.
Twitter, his best-known creation, was recently valued as high as $10 billion, according to a Wall Street Journal story. The microblogging tool is expected to reach 500 million registered users sometime this month.
And now Williams is leading development of a new Internet platform, something called Medium.
He was willing to talk with me a bit during his busy schedule in New York (see video, below), which included giving a keynote address at O'Reilly's Tools of Change conference.
New tool will help farmers
One of the first things that struck me about Williams is his unpretentiousness. He speaks confidently, but softly. He was unwilling to delve into areas where he doesn’t feel fully informed. Although he mentioned that he grew up reading Successful Farming, he wasn’t prepared at this point in his life to talk about the future of agricultural technology.
He did allow, though, that his new Internet publishing platform could be useful to farmers, by helping them do a better job of collaborating with one another.
“Our new platform is all about sharing knowledge and ideas. We see that impacting all sectors. Certainly there is a lot…to share on the farm,” he said. “The independent nature of farming probably demands more of that type of thing than in some other types of industries where people are already working in organizations and sharing information amongst themselves.”
While demonstrating Medium at the New York conference, Williams framed his goal as nothing less than to “drive quality” to the Internet.
“We are trying to create a whole new system for people to be able to get the information that’s important to them….The Internet is capable of doing better,” he said.
Credit to his farm roots
In my interview, Williams did venture a few thoughts on another area of interest to farmers: what’s being called “big data.”
“A huge field that’s going to be significant [for agriculture] is getting data at all times about what’s happening on the farm…getting visibility for the data. That seems like a no-brainer, that it’s going to have a huge impact.”
Williams credits his farm roots for an ability to take risks and start and run tech companies. There are other folks in Silicon Valley who may be better educated and otherwise better qualified, he said, but a farm-bred entrepreneurial nature is what has given him an edge in the highly competitive digital world.
“I attribute that [entrepreneurial success] somewhat, if not entirely, to growing up on the farm, where you sink or swim based on your own actions,” he said. “My dad and all the farmers around had an independent mindset. Being independent was just the way you lived your life.”