Think of this as Volume 12, Number 13 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Twitter is a bridge between the Web that was and the mobile Web that will be. It is simply SMS message which is visible on the Web and can be broadcast as a channel. My Twitter feed is a channel. Your Twitter feed is a channel.
What makes it a big deal is mobility. People Tweet from what we used to call their phones. But with more and more people carrying iPhones and other devices with keyboard-like functionality, it means you can broadcast your thoughts from literally anywhere. This thrills some people, and it scares other people. It also makes fools of lots and lots of people.
When I say Twitter is a bridge from the Web that was, I also mean that it's a product of Google sensibility -- build it first and monetize it later. SMS is the cheapest form of cellular messaging, and was a vital form of communication for years before Twitter arrived. But it is not cost-free.
So there are lots of possible revenue streams for Twitter. Twitter, in fact, provides an enormous revenue stream for the nation's cellular duopoly. It is to their credit that they haven't tried to scarf up more, that they have let well enough alone. That's an important industry turning point. They have made more money with regular SMS revenues to Twitter than they would have by instantly defining it a premium service.
The Google-like scaling success of Twitter has a lot of people who should be worrying about other things worrying about finding Twitter a business model. The ExecTweets idea has already been panned, but my kids came up with one today without even knowing they were doing it.
Contests are a big thing in the SMS world, as are overpriced SMS messages tied to contests. I have a friend in that business. He can probably tweak what follows and turn it into a fortune faster than you can tweet Jack Robinson.
You start by charging an entry fee, buried in the cost of the SMS message. Easy enough, that's called an SMS Premium Service. You can charge anything, from as little as a quarter to several dollars, but given the volumes you can expect through Twitter let's start at the low end. Twitter could register accounts to a contest and charge for tweets to the contest manager.
The simplest contest might be to create a new ad. Coke needs a new slogan. Tweet it to @cokeslogan for just a quarter. Winner gets a fabulous prize, a trip for two to Manhattan, a visit to the MadMen at their real agency, tickets to a show, maybe their own tweet at CitiField or the new Yankee Stadium. You get the idea.
Funny thing about this business model is you start scaled up, then extract revenue by scaling down. You can run contests at ballgames -- winner gets their Tweet onto the scoreboard during the 7th inning stretch. You can run Tweet contests through TV stations, through radio stations, through newspaper Web sites.
Now each contest makes you a "fan" of the corporate account you enter at. So you have a potential revenue stream running the other way. Even if 90% of the "fans" drop out after the first ad tweet, you can keep the remaining 10% if you're offering something of real value -- a Tweet to another account that gives you a coupon, or a free entry into another contest.
What Twitter contests build is an intimate, two-way connection between customers and their favorite brands. This is the marketer's Holy Grail, a connection that was lost once e-mail marketing became spam. Since this is opt-in, you can maintain that link so long as you only send truly valuable offers. Hopefully people will have learned that important lesson.
Then there are services well worth paying for. All types of paid alerts can be made available. Here's a macabre one. Your death announcement. You can't send that one, but a service could, if you give loved ones its phone number, which you keep in your wallet or as an app in your phone's SIM card. (Remember this is the mobile web.) Instead of the last trump call it The Last Tweet.
And this is just the start. Twitter makes SMS popular. But cell carriers have been able to tie several such messages together for a decade, a service they call MMS messaging. Which means picture tweeting, song tweeting -- ringtones and wallpapers from a half-decade ago were MMS messages.
If Twitter can capture the MMS tweeting idea as a premium service, then all our cellphone cameras can turn our Twitter accounts into real video news feeds. Someone will spin big money from this -- just you wait.
The idea that Twitter has to worry about finding a business model is absolutely absurd. Which brings me to my final lesson today.
The Google model now works on the mobile Web. Twitter is the start of something really big, and you're in on the ground floor of it. At least you have A-Clue.