Turning Big Userbase Into Big Money

Twitter has come in for a considerable amount of stick in the past couple of weeks. This is since the latest update for their Twitter iOS app.

As a bit of history, Twitter was a bit slow to release their own custom iOS app and relied on people using the mobile version of their website. This wasn’t great and dev houses capitalised on this by creating their own apps using the Twitter API. They did very well at it too.

So much so that Twitter themselves bought one of the best apps around, Tweetie, and rebranded it as their own, free app. A good move all round.

Then came the update for their iOS app and a new aggressive tactic.

Twitter, being quite upset that people are charging for their apps when Twitter get no money for providing the API, have recently started targeting some apps which they deem to be abusing it, or ‘misleading users’. The highest profile app that they withdrew API support for was UberTwitter (a very popular BlackBerry app which has since been re-launched as UberSocial).

The second source of user contempt came from the relaunch of the Twitter iOS app. Users who updated found a new ‘Trend Bar’ appearing on the feed list showing the current Trending Topics on Twitter.

Firstly, the implementation was poor, ugly and intrusive. Secondly, the trends being shown were not localised (e.g. UK) but were instead Worldwide. Which usually means US.

Also, and I suspect Twitter’s main motivation, the Sponsored Topic would be displayed. Basically, a phrase that a brand will pay Twitter to show in it’s Trending Topics.

Twitter has had a couple of bad PR weeks then. The emphasis shifting from social media to profit making. The fact that Charlie Sheen was recruited to Twitter by a commercial agency this week is further proof of how Twitter is changing.

Ultimately, the question remains. Facebook and Twitter have huge user bases, access to those users is a hugely valuable asset. How does Twitter make money without alienating the user and moving Twitter away from it’s social community roots, to a celebrity advertising network?

Facebook has gone some way to profitability by containing adverts on every page and allowing third party apps. But how do twitter make money? Adverts on the full website won’t be well received, it’s something Twitter themselves have said they won’t do. Mobile ads are tolerated more, and as we’ve seen, sponsored content is too easy to avoid and it’s effectiveness is a matter of debate.

Twitter’s next option may be to start charging third party apps for using the API. Is that the fairest way for paying for the expensive business of maintaining the network?

Nothing is for sure except one thing. Twitter hasn’t produced the answer yet, but it will have to. More importantly, will the changes continue to drive this undesirable migration from social community to celebrity advertising network?


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