One of the greatest things about the web is the freedom that it gives to explore and browse at will anywhere on the continuum between the sacred and the profane. That freedom is further enhanced largely by the fact that other paying for your PC and your monthly server usage, most things can be done for free. Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter's hundreds of millions of users grow exponentially all based on the fact that someone is offering them up a service for free.
Now let's face it, free doesn't necessarily mean your eyes won't wander to the seeming wallpaper ads that start to creep up the sides of your profile pages on MySpace and Facebook. But the ads are just that - wallpaper, and wallpaper becomes fairly innocuous to us as time passes. Quite truthfully, while I know there are side-scroller ads every time I'm on Facebook, I can't for the life of me remember even one by name. And so I continue to equate my media desensitization to free Facebook.
With the expectation of Twitter monetization sometime this year, the question remains: how does one monetize a microblog?Imagine if Facebook could only monetize the status updates... what would they do? I, though not the first or last to wander through such meandering miasma, will try to offer a few possible alternatives for what you might be seeing in your Twitter (or tweets') future.
1) Offer up a Pro Version
Such a Pro version would be a subscription type of service that would offer a couple of dozen customization options, maybe an "official" Twitter client, a 12seconds or Seesmic-like video option, and an opt-out choice on Number Two.
2) Tweet Ads (full Twitter Corporate Accounts)
Whether only once, or once a day, big name companies will buy into forcing tweets onto your page. Picture a Coke or Pepsi ad coming up with a special image or flash animation. Companies could tweet links to Twitter-only coupons and special offers. Dell has done this to great success with it's followers. If the follow choice was taken out of the equation completely a company could ensure millions of direct views a day... maybe they pay extra to keep it at the top of your list for 24 hours.
3) Tweet Ads (specific users/follwers)
Full Twitter ads would cause an uproar, though this uproar could be alleviated if the Top 20 were enlisted to support such a campaign. Imagine if Kevin Rose or Leo Laporte was offered 10, 20 or $50,000 from a soft drink company to push one tweet a day on their followers. Imagine if Jason Calacanis was offered $100,000 for a month's worth of Tesla Tweets. What if Robert Scoble was paid the same amount for permitting Palm to pitch the Pre? Would the loss of the disgruntled followers dissuade from the money to be made? Twitter could act as the agent for such marketing and retain sole denial over any independent ad pitch.
Let's face it, if Twitter's monetization ideas are too harmful to the service, it will have to be the Top 20 who effectively kill them.
4) Expand services
Maybe, now that Twitter has ceased to be a real website presence and more of service, it's time for them to get into the Social Networking game full bore: profile pages, widgets, etc.. We're all looking for the next Facebook killer even before Facebook has outstretched MySpace in the US. Perhaps Twitter could provide the social networking platform for the upcoming decade.
While these choices may range from likely to out-of-reach, the simple truth is that VC funding doesn't last forever. With the initial round Web2.0 deaths or fade outs already at our door, Twitter may realize that while the writing's not on the wall, someone's has started to circulate Sharpies. They're stuck between the Scylla and Charybdis - a next step is imminent, but do your take the chance on monetizing, make a mis-step, and start to fade, or do you start to listen to buyout/merger offers while the service is still seen as pristine?
With Fail Whales behind and dollar signs ahead, someone's set to make a bundle if they can walk the fine line between mildly annoying users and plain pissing them off. Walk like a prophet, or run at a loss.