So Tim Bray wants to make sure that Twitter stays around, and therefore wants a business model for Twitter. I’d like it to stay around too, which means there has to be a business model for it, but I’m not sure that directly charging people for it is the right model. I don’t have any visibility into Twitter’s economics, but I do have some decent visibility into my usage of the service. All of Tim’s proposals for Twitter are predicated on the notion of wanting to “reach people”. He also cited the classification of Twitter as microblogging, which might be sort of accurate, but which doesn’t capture the whole situation, at least not for me.
My usage of twitter breaks down into several categories:
Reaching people in the sense that Tim means. This breaks down by category into several groups, some overlapping: technologists, photographers. These are tweets of links, facts, ideas and so forth. This is the most blogging/microblogging usage of Twitter
Random spicy commentary about nothing This is just random information about me, the virtual equivalent of the water cooler at work. These tweets add color, but probably are devoid of directly useful information. Alhough you never know how people might use intimate knowledge of your lunch habits.
Social banter One of the twitter tribes that I am in is the local Seattle Flickr tribe. This group is one of the reasons that Facebook became sticky for me, at least for a time. That pretty much stopped when a critical mass of those folks discovered twitter. These tweets are where people are, what they are having for lunch, dinner, etc. They play the role of building a social fabric which is essential for that group to be as successful as it has become.
Social arranging This happens because of the SMS Twitter gateway and accessibility of Twitter via mobile devices. Twitter killed whatever usage I might have had on Dodgeball. When I am at conferences, Twitter has become an essential part of the hallway/after hours track. So much so that this usage will drive me to buy a 3G class web enabled telephone, as soon as Jobs announces it.
So there are many usages besides “reaching people” in a blogging like sense, and it’s not clear to me that some of these usages would continue if Twitter raised the bar by charging for usage. For the social connections part, reducing the ubiquity of the service is a real negative. The value of Twitter would definitely be reduced by cutting out people who couldn’t/wouldn’t afford to pay for it, like starving aspiring photographers.