April 16, 2010

Ads? Check. @Anywhere? Check. Chirp? Check.

In November, when Twitter COO Dick Costolo (@dickc) promised ads that we would "love" were on their way to the popular status update service, I promised to embrace the move, assuming the content was relevant. Now that Twitter's "Sponsored Tweet" model has been revealed, and promotional updates can be seen in various search results, we're seeing the tip of what should become a consistent and growing revenue stream for the much discussed San Francisco start-up.

The news of the Sponsored Tweets platform came in a week of delivery for the company, who held its first developers conference on Wednesday and Thursday, talking to the somewhat shaken community, explaining their direction and plans to make more opportunities for them to tap into the company's massive real-time ecosystem. The week also saw them begin the roll-out of their @Anywhere platform, bringing elements of Twitter to the rest of the Web, this Web site included. (For example, mouseover @louisgray or @rsarver and see what happens.)

The most interesting news out of Chirp came from two things: the promise of a new API that delivered live content streaming (See @jesse: Twitter Announces Live Social Graph Streams) as well as the delivery of a new option for developers, dubbed annotations. (See @scobleizer: Developers: how will we all get along with Twitter’s annotation feature?) The combination of these two pieces means not that Twitter will be reducing the need for developers' products, but giving them more access to more data more quickly, with the option to extend information well beyond their famous 140 character limit.

For some, the metadata around Twitter's data will always be more interesting than the short updates themselves. We can know, for instance, when you said something, the location from which you said it, what client you were using, and whether it was in reply to someone else to continue a conversation. Those are things we have taken for granted - the basics. With annotations, we can now go well beyond. Additionally, the elimination of latency and polling should let aggressive clients like TweetDeck and Seesmic get even more robust, as they can focus on adding more features, not on band-aids to work around what have been slow elements in Twitter's infrastructure.

You Can Get to a Sponsored Tweet If You Look Hard Enough

Despite my not having attended Chirp, I saw the onslaught of updates from those participating and attending through their various streams. Their viewpoint of the service having just completed the event looks much stronger than it did going in, when the news of official mobile clients from Twitter threatened to drive down developer morale. Hopefully this means future releases that are even more innovative which I can get to review here.

As for those ads? Right now, they are incredibly hard to find. Twitter is starting slow, letting big brands be the testbed before opening up to the world, as AdWords has. You can find a Starbucks ad when you search for coffee, for example, but for the most part, you won't see a Sponsored Tweet unless you try hard. Over time, I expect this will change, even as Twitter moves to make them more pervasive in search results and in third party clients. So not only am I fine with how they're being run so far, but their impact is small - except to show that Twitter is serious about revenue, just like we always hoped they eventually would be.

After the announcement of the ad platform, I got an e-mail from one reader, who said, "Still waiting for your post on Twitters Biz Model." When I pointed to my November post, asking "... that was in November of 2009. Do I need a new one?", he responded: "Ha! Touche. I forgot that you're one of the few who actually write presciently."

I can't say it's a level of prescience. It's just common sense. And Twitter, despite its challenges, is progressing on the right path. In a few years, you just might look back and say, "Remember when?"

Disclosures: I am an unpaid advisor to MyLikes, a company which also allows Twitter users to post sponsored Tweets in their stream. I also advise SocialToo, which would benefit from the new API options, and is @Jesse's company.

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