Twitter: Money and Search. Guess who wants in!

Social networking is successful not only because it is great but also because it is free. Any major site, and there are so many now, wouldn’t have even got off the ground if their service hadn’t been free however there comes a point where the buck stops and investors want to see money coming their way.

There are tried and tested methods to keep services free, ad supported is the favourite at the moment, but what other ways could Twitter go? There are quite a few options however there is an interesting third option that could keep it unmonetised.

The news broke recently that Google and Twitter are finally getting it on however their initial offering seems a little odd; allowing tweets to go out across the Adsense network? Maybe this is to get more people to follow a particular company however it will be interesting for non-Twitters to encounter odd looking ads and has the potential to deliver a very low quality of traffic.

Oh well, I’m sure they know what they are doing for the moment, I’m just waiting for the Big G to get in there and buy Twitter straight out. Maybe I’m jumping the gun or missing the point but this would be the best acquisition for some time and it isn’t as if they are short of a few quid. Putting a valuation on Twitter is somewhat hard and it has ranged massively from $250 million to a muttered billion dollars but TechCrunch makes a good point that even a billion or more is peanuts to secure the future of search.

Yet is Twitter the future of real time search? It has started well and Hitwise has some awesome looking traffic / growth figures but there is also scope for Google to pull a half way house and instead of buying Twitter buy the real time feed. This would bring in all of that shiny new real time search functionality and would allow Google to break away from tried and tested crawling / indexing and move into something more current. This could even be the potential monetisation scheme Twitter are looking for; lease out the real time feed for a huge amount, levelling at least the real time game for all willing to pay.

There is clearly a lot of ways for Twitter’s future to play out and I suspect we are only just getting out of the opening game with its potential monetisation leading the way. Saying all of this maybe I am wrong and Google is just toying with things or building initial relationships after a five year break following the sale of Blogger so here are a couple of ideas of how they could monetise their service:

  • Side Bar Ads – Everyone’s favourite! Ads that frequently look like they could be some kind of content(ish) offering products that either match your tweets or the tweets of the person you are looking at. Alternatively you could do a Facebook and just have ads with little to no matching but who cares they have more users than most countries have citizens!
  • The Wingman – Shame this was a joke, was actually a good name for it.
  • Pro Accounts – Flickr does it well and so could Twitter. Either impose a tweet per day limit, open up stats / an increased value proposition, who looked at your profile (this isn’t so popular at times) or a menagerie of other possibilities.
  • Software – Developing integration with various platforms or other apps and charging for this. I personally don’t like this; if I want to use your service you need to make it easy for me to do so, don’t ask me to pay because I have an iphone, I paid already.
  • Business or Corporate Accounts – Similar to pro accounts but force all businesses to get them. This could be tricky with existing users and would bring in a host of return questions but is fair as they are using this for commercial purposes. Policing it is another issue so all in all not a great idea but getting business to support users is.
  • Pay per Tweet – This is my favourite idea (mostly because of the name) and could work well. It would have to be limited in quantity but if users signed up for those accounts, buying in from the start, it could go very well. Having a version that allowed you to access people who you aren’t following would also be possible but would likely annoy people.
  • Paid Sections – There is even potential to have new sections of Twitter follow a similar model to pay per tweet. A great one would be job ads where you could pay to display to people within a certain sector or who ticked the appropriate box etc. I personally like this one as it broadens the offering but it isn’t big enough to support the whole service.
  • Opt out of Ads (borrowed from SEOmoz) – interesting but really not my favourite idea! If something was free to start with and now they want $9 per month to not look at ads you didn’t sign up to in the first place? I would be angry…

So the question remains open; pick a strategy or potentially lease your continuing flow of gold. Alternatively sell up and hope the buyer understand the value in purity and the enrichment of their service.

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