Tim and Twitterbucks

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.

3 thoughts on “Tim and Twitterbucks

  1. Salman Jilani

    For me twitter is near to useless. but the micro blogging feature and remote status updates is pretty cool. the twitter interface is the main thing that turns me off. it isn’t user friendly. now all I’m afraid about is twitter ads. users won’t really mind but critics will…

    According to me if they update the user interface and use friendly terms, twitter will get more traffic.

  2. Ed

    Is there any correlation between people who love twitter and people who use the service through their phones?

    Any thoughts on Twitter’s scalability problems and their use of Rails? What happens when a really famous person discovers Twitter? Someone who might have hundreds of thousands of followers?

  3. Ted Leung Post author

    Salman, just use a rich desktop client. Makes all the difference.

    Ed, one of the tribes (the Seattle Flickrites) that I am in on twitter relies heavily on phone/SMS usage. I tried to get them to go to Pownce, since Pownce does Flickr nicely. People wouldn’t go because there was no SMS. Even for me, mobile usage is highly important. Important enough to make me upgrade my phone on Monday.

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