Time to Pay the Twitter

That’s crazy to pay for free service.  Yes, I agree.  Call it what you will.  But, everyone *and* your mother is on Twitter.  O K, not everyone.   And, not everyone’s mother.  But, high probability the person in front of you at the supermarket is on Twitter.  Meanwhile, the conversation of Twitter’s “service up-time” or lack thereof, revenue model, and competition is on the rise.

I didn’t always think this way.  If you asked many of many friends and business acquaintances, they will tell you that I was once a strong Twitter opponent.  Yes, just months ago I could be caught saying “it’s just a passing fad”, “no one really cares except those deep inside the echo chamber”.   Now, it seems the whole world’s in *that* chamber.  I’ve gone from “twitter is a waste” to “twitter is somewhat useful” to “having a little fun on twitter” to today — “twitter would be better if I paid for it”.

I’m actually telling Twitter “go ahead and charge me”.  I’m not sure if the Twitter founders and advocates are pumping their fists screaming “yes” or “dear god — you’re missing the point”.

Let’s consider a few facts.

  • 90% of Twitters content is generated by 1-2% of the registrants.   The huge mass of folks that tweet less than 10 times (i.e. sign up and tune out) is staggering.  Just do a search on “Patricia Smith” reveals that after you get through the top 20 contributors, dozens of Patricia Smiths with less than 10 followers and haven’t tweeted in months.
  • Spam and follow-bots are increasingly annoying.  15% of Twitter traffic, according to security expert Alexandru Catalin Cosoi of BitDefender, as quoted in The Globe and Mail.  Seeing a new follower like @girliej6j6 who’s following 20 times more people than are following them.  Weak.
  • The number of times Twitter is inaccessible due to Twitter server overload is majorly frustrating.  Yes, you know.  You’ve even tweeted that Twitter is twimbelling.twitter-addicts1249598011
  • More than 40% of all tweets are “pointless babble.” That’s from a study released this past month by San Antonio-based marketing firm Pear Analytics.  The study, co-authored with research firm TNS, also shows that 30% of users are tweeting to interact with family, 30% connect with celebrities, and 24% interact with other bloggers.  Because there’s no fee “per tweet”, to follow a friend, colleague or industry specialist, the model succumbs to “you should try my awesome spaghetti and meatballs recipe”.
  • Anyone ever tried to contact Twitter support.  ‘Nough said.
  • Twittter search stinks.  A royal piece of crap.   Hence, why you’re using third-party tools.  Wouldn’t it be nice if these services were seamlessly integrated?  True plug-ins.  Not apps.   (Think: native salesforce.com Appxchange.)  It would be so much easier and better experience.
  • Instantaneouness.  Yes, a new word for real-time, and where else can you get speedy answers?  Confirm an earthquake or major emerging world or local event.  Get a referral or recommendation faster on the Twitterer network.  And, hence the value differentiator between Twitter feeds, and Google, which is best for searching archives (things more than 4 hours old).   Yes, an indirect plug for why some enjoy Facebook too.

What I find most strange is that Twitter has a value of $441 million to $589 million, according to a report by an independent research firm co-founded by financial world celebrity Michael Moe.  So, it has about a 10x of $55M invested to date.  And, no revenue model.

It’s certainly against the norm for social networks to charge a fee.   Social networks seem to enjoy leveraging the old radio and TV model.  An annoying, content-based ad network.  But, I like satellite and internet, commercial-free radio and I’m willing to pay for it.   Anyone who has SiriusXM knows what I’m talking about.

Twitter isn’t purely a social network.  Maybe it’s actually useful and worth a small fee to improve the service.  Like any other brand, product or service I believe in, I’d like an easy way to impact and improve it.  You know, really be a customer.  When you get something for free, you’re not really a customer.   You are servants to whatever policies are set.  Businesses with paying customers are fixed to higher standards.   Notice how Twitter and Facebook need to keep issuing “terms of use” statements.

So, you would benefit from this model:

  • Everyone would have a verified account.  Twitter would be accountable.
  • User experience would improve with a single interface that has all your favorite integrated tools and plug-ins.  Furthermore, users would have more control over the views, compatibility, and features.
  • Porn (and other stalking advertising-type followers) would be significantly reduced – as they would have to pay to play.   In fact, Twitter could remove those accounts/users entirely.  If they object, put them in their own “room” so to speak and then if you want to follow and be followed by those types of entities, it’s your choice.  Sure, you can add a block to your account, but you still have to review each request for legitimacy.
  • Search would work.  I know there’s excellent third party products, but I’d much rather a self-contained accessible system.
  • Improvements and application usage would be driven by how customers want to use it and ability to provide innovative feedback.
  • Better mobile apps.

Making the brands pay for Twitter won’t work.  There are far too many folks out there with larger footprints than a lot of brands.  And, what it I RT (re-tweet) what my company posted, are you gonna charge for that?   There’s no way to segment the payment model.   I do agree that brand (corporate accounts) should pay a larger fee than individuals, but still advocating payment from everyone.

Twitter has been far from consistent on this topic. Biz Stone recently reiterated that Twitter would not charge users for existing usage habits; but, the company plans to launch a set of premium services, such as more detailed analytics or deeper CRM services, for which companies using Twitter may be willing to pay. See article Twitter to Remain Ad-Free launch a revenue model.   But, CEO Evan Williams stated a year ago that the largest revenue upside will come with brands being charged for access.   Biz Stone now says “it might be hard to tease out who is using the service professionally and who is using it for personal reasons, and then charge them for it. So the idea is to build a set of features that people are willing to pay for.”   Aha.

So, if Twitter costs money, we will all start migrating to a new free system, and Twitter will die a slow, painful death.  Perhaps.  But, the new system will hit the same roadblocks after awhile, i.e. where’s the revenue model.   And, will they be able to raise $50Million to invest in the infrastructure to run it and build technology relationships?   Meanwhile, Twitter can be working on harnessing their true advocates that see value in the connections.  The conversations.  The news feeds.  The recommendations.   Etc.  Etc.

Competition is coming for Twitter.   I doubt Microsoft will sit on the sidelines forever with MSN Networks and watch someone else get market share.  It wasn’t that long ago that MySpace was dominant and seemed untouchable.  Now, we only seem to talk about Facebook.   It could just as easily happen to Twitter.

Yahoo has launched a microblogging service that emulates Twitter. It’s called Yahoo Meme, and it was launched in English in early September.  Similar versions have been available in Spanish and Portuguese for a few months.  Yahoo Meme allows users to post photos, videos, and other content with short descriptions. Users also follow each other in a fashion similar to Twitter. The company says the goal of Yahoo Meme is to allow people to share content without having to join a specific social networking site. However, users do have to be registered on Yahoo.

All I’m saying is that I’m ready to pay $25 or $30/year for a better experience, reduced threats of spam attacks, and protection of my online persona and connections.  Net net.  Something will have to happen. Charging an annual rate for member usage would create instant, recurring revenue, cut down on the “my meatballs are delicious” tweets, and improves the service immensely.  Note the word “service”.

Alternatively, what if Twitter returned their VC money and made it opensource shareware.  With volunteer donations.  We could develop a diverse, superuser community of top social media influencers, which would manage the direction, and put the passionate developers together on one platform.

OK.  Back to more productive online activities.  Like studying up on changes I need to make to my fantasy football teams.   BTW, fantasy sports is another social network I pay real $ to subscribe (and also littered with banner ads that my eyes have been taught to skim over).

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Feeling a Little Loma

Reading all those comments about CalTrans on sfgate.com.   People definitely feel strongly about that Bridge and CalTrans.  When things go right, everyone applauds CalTrans…and, at the slightest of slip-ups, they’re called out as “bums”.   The 70-year-old bridge was in severe need of repair, yet one that I seem to rarely think about being unsafe.  Now, we’re all set with the new detour to begin the retrofit of the new East side section to this iconic and important artery in the Bay Area.

The Bridge had a planned closure this weekend, and by all accounts, CalTrans and the CC Myers’ crew were ready to address a near engineering marvel to move out and replace 300 feet of road way, 200 feet high off the water.   That part went fine.  What we weren’t ready for was an extended closure due to an issue found during the new road work.   It was the bridge inspection that led to the extended, and now, unexpected, unscheduled closure.

An upper strut of the Bridge cracked and they needed 1 more day to fix.  With the Tuesday commute pending, we all went scrambling, but when the rubber met the road, literally, CalTrans ended up completing the repairs early Tuesday morning, which led to a 2 hour delay and avoided a whole extra (24 hour) delay.   Quite stunning change of course in last 24 hours.

It’s always a little strange when the Bay Bridge closes.  It happened 2 years ago to fix the West side of the bridge, and ended up opening up about 12 hours ahead of schedule.   But, what really occupies me is what happened 20 years ago.

Loma Prieta.   It’s one of the few times when I remember to a tee what happened after the quake hit and the

number of people who shared in the experience within a short period.

I had just arrived home from my afternoon history class at UC Davis.  I only had 2 quarters left at school.  I walked into my apartment on F Street, put my books down, and felt a strong, rolling wave.  Perhaps just a little

lp - bay bridge_09

woozy after a long day at school.  No, it felt like an earthquake.   I turned on the radio and I ran to my study room.  Sure enough, a hanging plant was swaying to and fro.  From the radio “a large earthquake has hit the bay area, and centered in Palo Alto”, a 100 miles away.  My parents lived in Palo Alto.  I immediately called home.  I reached my mother instantly.  She said that everything is fine.  Her clock radio fell off a shelf, but the power was still on.  I learned later that the earthquake was actually centered in Hollister, but regardless, it was a miracle that I actually got thru that instant as almost every phone line got tied up as the Bay Area was reeling in damage.

I bolted out of my apartment on my bike to head up the street to my buddies house to watch the World Series.  It wasn’t just *any* World Series…it was the “Bay Bridge Series” between the Oakland A’s and the SF Giants.   I opened the door swiftly, “did anyone feel the earthquake?’

“Sure did,” everyone responded.   “And, no baseball today”.

“Really?”

earthquake22No way.  Candlestick had cracked in the upper section.   The upper deck of the bay bridge went thru the lower deck.   The Marina district was engulfed in flames and crushed homes, and the Cypress Structure in Oakland completely collapsed.

I stared at the TV.  Looking at the Bay Area and roads I had travelled uncountable times.   Stunned.   Helpless.   The Bay Area would never be the same again.

About 2 weeks later, I had tickets to the Rolling Stones concert in Oakland, which would have been fine to get to, but we also decided to spend the day before in the city.  It must have taken 2.5 hours to get from Richmond to SF…complete crawl over the Richmond-San Rafael and Golden Gate Bridges.

Alas, the Bay bridge would be fixed within a few weeks in 1989.  A new section would be dropped in.  The Cypress Structure was removed, the Embarcadero high-rise was removed.   Many blocks of the Marina were re-built.

Now on Tues, Sept. 8 2009, the bridge has re-opened as the earthquake-proofing from 20 years ago continues, which I guess is certainly far better than unscheduled closures.  Albeit a pain, we seem to adapt and move on.  And, being prepared for at least 1 or 2 more closures to re-attach the new section.  Until next Labor Day…

The Bridge is cracked and they need 1 more day, meaning we’re now scrambling to address a commute no one planned for.   So, no we’re in lp - bay bridge_09unscheduled territory and I can only stop and reflect on what happened 20 years ago.