John Brandon

How to monetize Twitter right now

By John Brandon
August 29, 2008 7:00 AM EDT

Twitter is the star of 2008, a service for letting everyone know what you are doing, reading, thinking, saying. Yet, it has a long way to go in terms of really capturing mass attention. Like Mozilla, the company has the opportunity to really turn their popularity into legitimate, on-going, massive revenue.

Linda Roeder was one of the first to post about the Twitter purchase of Summize recently, and it got me thinking about ways to monetize the fledgling social interaction site. (Read Write Web confirmed the purchase.) No one seems to know how much Twitter paid for Summize, so if you know, post in comments. An editor who I won't name here just told me today that they will run a story on Twitter when the site finally figures out how to make money (or when someone else figures out how to make money off of Twitter).

Summize is a good example of where Twitter wants to go with generating new revenue. After the purchase, Twitter changed the name to search.twitter.com. There are quick links to common Twitter searches. And, in a blog post, Twitter claims it's the perfect match.

So, what does this mean for monetization? A more searchable Twitter is one that is also more embedded into Web sites and services like FaceBook. Think of it this way: if the idea of searching tweets becomes the norm, it means the company can become sort of a Google of life-blogging, and that means a lot more time on Twitter and a lot more advertising revenue. It's a sea change, at least as much of a sea change as you can expect in Web 2.0, in that Twitter loses its "for the moment" nature and becomes a historical record.

I think there's a lot of other ways to monetize Twitter. I keep thinking that life-blogging could explode if it becomes location-aware. I get in my car, it tweets my commute. I use my desk phone, it tweets that I'm at work. I go to a party, and a GPS in my phone syncs with a receiver at the party and let's everyone know I am there - and so are these other 100 Twitter users. In all of these instances, Twitter could benefit from advertising related to the phone, the car, and even the party.

Another obvious revenue source: globalization. Right now, I can let my friends know what I am doing in the US. But if I have a friend in Austria, the site suddenly loses its power, since there is no German Twitter. Globalization means more revenue because the world can communicate in their native language, which just increases traffic. I have heard that Twitter can expect to hit 100 million users in the next year, but globalization could lead to traffic that's three times that number, especially with location-aware services.

Search, location-awareness, globalization - they will create a snowball effect for Twitter. But perhaps the greatest impact will come from something that Twitter is already doing to some extent. Today, my Twitter account can feed my status into FaceBook. What if Twitter fed into everything? My IM. My e-mail. My blog. My applications. This feed frenzy would reate a further snowball effect.

One of the greatest strengths of Google is that they are embedded into the Web. They don't just make money off the ads at the most popular blogs. They make money by the fact that a million bloggers show Google ads. And while those famous bloggers may switch to a different ad network, and a lot of the less famous bloggers might switch, it's the millions of bloggers (and Web site owners) who probably won't. That's why I always tell people to invest in Google - they are implanted into the Internet like no one else.

Twitter, today, is not very implanted on the Web -- Twitter status is not part of mainstream Web sites (ala Digg). But by this time next year, watch out - they might be. And once they are, the searchability, awareness, and globalization will become trivial aspects compared to their vastly entrenched "Twitter everywhere" monetization.