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.
- 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.
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).