Color me surprised. Quite a few of you think that Twitter is worth $1 billion. Yesterday's article had been "RT'd" or "retweeted" -- Twitterspeak for "redistributed" -- more than 40 times as of this writing, reaching an estimated 97,000 tweeple, or "Twitter people." Wow.
Some of you responded to me at my Twitter address, @milehighfool. "Good point about Twitter being excellent search engine. I keep an eye on TwitScoop like a mini-CNN for breaking news," wrote reader Catherine Ventura.
She's hardly alone: Twitter has become an immensely popular destination for newsmakers and news seekers. Its user base is up 900% year over year. Traffic is such that monetizing it with ads would be easy. Fortunately, the company's founders have bigger plans.
"We have enough traffic on our website that we could put ads on there and maybe we could make enough to pay our bills, but that's not the most interesting thing we can do," co-founder and CEO Evan Williams told the Associated Press in a recent interview.
More interesting things
I'll say. Twitter can be far more telling and far more precise than your average focus group, and firms tend to pay as much $300 a head to create one. It's also real time, a collection of "thought streams," as TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld wrote recently.
Twitter, in other words, is the world's most interesting, multilingual zeitgeist. More so than either Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) or Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) CNN news channel because of its instantaneousness -- $1 billion may even be too cheap a price to pay for Twitter.
Why? Because instant intelligence is the key to microtargeting. Think about how much better your experience might be if you gave Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) opt-in access to your tweets via the Twitter API. You'd receive recommendations based on your past rentals, your friends' rentals, and what you and your friends are talking about right now. Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , Williams-Sonoma (NYSE: WSM ) , Sirius XM (Nasdaq: SIRI ) -- any company that recommends products, services, or entertainment -- could benefit from access to your tweetstream.
That's the sort of innovation I'm referring to when I say Twitter is like Google for conversations.
Tweet! Tweet! Here, little business model
But I promised you ideas for monetizing this data. Turns out I only have one: Sell access.
Twitter, technically, is a microblogging service but it could make millions as a micro-targeting service, selling access to you and I on our terms. The best part? We've seen this model work before. It has a name. It's called Google.
The Big G makes money two ways:
- By placing ads on its own sites. (AdWords.)
- By placing ads on sites others own. (AdSense.)
Twitter could make money by selling conversational intelligence to those who would benefit from microtargeting. These businesses would either be:
- Operating on its platform. (StockTwits, Xpenser, etc.)
- Operating elsewhere. (Netflix, Amazon, etc.)
Twitter would have to be careful about what it sold, of course. Its terms of service make clear that all original content I post to Twitter, I own. My conversations are mine and, to resell them, Twitter would need a license. But, again, there's a model for this: AdSense. Send me a kickback when a marketer accesses my conversations, in aggregate or otherwise.
TwitterSense would take some effort to create, to be sure. The good news? Part of the problem is already solved. Twitter includes a search engine that organizes by topic. What it lacks are algorithms for condensing and indexing conversations and then identifying who is speaking.
Hashtags -- conversational markers that help to identify chats in progress -- would help with topic indexing. Knowing who is speaking would be a harder problem to solve but the AdSense model could help. Want to participate? Tag yourself. Tell us what attributes describe you. Tell us what you want marketers to know about you.
To be fair, a system like this could give rise to cheaters, tweeple out to juice their profits by tagging themselves with "hot" keywords. So be it. Google policies this sort of behavior via its algorithms and Twitter could devise some of its own for comparing my self-selected tags with my tweets. The "real" me that marketers see would live in its database.
And it wouldn't bother me at all. What do you say, Twitter? There are millions to be made. Shall we profit together?