Tag: twitter (Page 1 of 3)

Monetizing Twitter: of social networks, ads and roads

Twitter goes public, right? And as of today we know the terms. Those are straight forward and no big surprise: large user base, high growth, huge losses but rising revenues. Alas, on the revenue side, there is probably consent (or at least strong voices) that they need to improve. So just coincidentally, Twitter also announced a few days ago that it struck a deal with CBS about video ads in tweets this autumn (erm, they called it fall, actually). This triggered a discussion on Facebook (yes, my friend Rob was at it again) where people argued if this was a Trojan horse by Twitter to get to those coveted second-screen ad dollars or if it was the natural extension of a movement towards “personal brands” or if it might ring in the death of Twitter as an empowering platform.

What struck me though was this: everyone seems to agree those ads are pesky things that are in your way. No one likes them (I really do not know a single person that has said even once “wow, just my kind of ad, how lovely”). An annoyance. Much worse than billboards or those banner ads we have by now all learned to ignore. Because you have to scroll past them. They can only be compared to the equally annoying video ads on YouTube you can “skip” after X seconds (and, yes, YouTube, we all want to skip them). Without wanting to diminish the significance of Madison Avenue then, I think we can – so far – deduce that the only reason why Twitter makes any money on this is that they can monetize the friction – it’s so annoying and in your way that it will catch some people out. I would love to see measures as to its effectiveness. I would posit that there are a gazillion ways to do it better.

Twitter & Wilshire Boulevard

This got me thinking: they should really be able to do it a lot better, right? I mean, 200m active users, 1bn tweets in every 48-hour period. There’s some money in there, surely. But let’s have a look of what Twitter is. Twitter connects people with each other. It creates a network. A social network. Right? Well, how about this: the road grid of LA connects people with each other. It creates a network. Would you ever call it a social network? Hell, no! And why not? Well, because it’s infrastructure, stupid! Now, ad dollars are being spent plentiful on the streets of LA but no one would ever dream of having them pay for the roads. And that might just be the flaw in all this!

Monetizing Infrastructure

Roads, you see, tend to be “monetized” (financed used to be the word) in one of two ways: tolls or taxes. There are some interesting toll concepts though: In London, the congestion charge (a cool £10 [=$15] charge per day) is being levied whenever you want to drive into the more congested parts of the centre. Makes money! In Germany, only lorries have to pay: commercial use of public infrastructure carries the levy. The Swiss and the Austrians simply run a  subscription service. And then you have your distance-driven ones (hello, Italy, France, M6 Toll, etc. etc.). The other way is to treat infrastructure as a public cost to provide an essential service. And because that is a social cost (no, my American friends, no need to run away; this is actually a fairly universally accepted concept), namely one by society, it should be spread across society. And the customarily applied technique to do that is taxes.

Why do we think that roads on the Interwebs can function differently? Mind you, you could probably plaster billboards all over the place and make sure that each neighbouring property onto which those billboards are mounted pays a “viewing charge” (the value of the billboard on that wall has nothing to do with the wall but all to do with Wilshire Blvd. passing by). But – without having run the maths – I am fairly sure that that would not be able to finance the whole thing. The reason why many people think it does work is that it only costs a fraction to build a road grid on the web than it does in real life (all of Twitter’s employees would arguably still be wrestling with that one bypass down in Santa Monica). And that’s really cool! Because it helped many a great technology to come into its own and bring a ton of good to mankind.

Alas, it doesn’t tackle the systemic flaw in the thinking: it is friggin’ infrastructure and that is not really the best way to finance it: annoyance by design? Come on, we should really be doing better. Or can we?

The Value of Networks

Metcalfe’s Law (which I often [ab]use in my talks) states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportionate to the square of its users (he stipulated it to demonstrate the value of ethernet ports). But that doesn’t mean that monetary value of X is Y. Because values can be non-monetary and – sadly (if you’re in the business) – non-monetizable. He would have been more accurate had he replaced the word “value” with “usefulness”.

However, if we home into this then, we might be getting closer to the solution: what it tells us is that Twitter (and every other “social” network) should be aiming to harvest the value it truly brings, namely that of the connections it facilitates. Regular users would most probably scoff at that and move on. However, commercial ones maybe not so much. It would be – crudely comparing this – taking the German toll system to social networks: if you use my infrastructure to transport commercial goods across my said infrastructure, you should pay. Because, you see, you are using my asset to maximize the value of your asset. And because I contribute to this value maximization, I should get a cut. Logical, no?

The value of the commercial use of digital infrastructure is, of course, humongous! On its most basic level, we pay for access (that’s your monthly broadband fees). Twitter (and everyone else in the wider realm) provides a value-add on top of that most basic level, and that is (more or less) meaningful connections. You could liken it to road signs, if you want. And with a network the size of Twitter’s, you’d be lost without them. So there is undoubtedly a lot of value there. But would a regular driver really want to pay for the use of a roadsign? Well, maybe not (even though it would be prudent as it would get her more quickly from A to B). Would a commercial delivery pay for their use? Probably: time is money, dude! And would, say, an ice cream van pay extra if said roadsign could direct him to the road full of ice cream-craving kids who have just had their pocket money? You bet!

This is, of course, what clever algorithms do. Google is pretty nifty with this, I hear. At least when it comes to AdWords and such. The others? Not so much though. The number of completely random, off-target ads and promoted tweets (or, on Facebook, “suggested posts) I have been seeing is mind-boggling. What are they thinking? (no, don’t answer).

To get this right might solve some monetization headaches. It would also do a few more good things: it would leave us regular users in peace! But, even more importantly, it would actually monetize where value is.


What is the Value of a Twitter User?

German newspaper F.A.Z. had a nice graph where they compare the “values” of users by putting user numbers in relation to market capitalization. The paper says “experts” estimate (ahead of the recently announced IPO) the value of Twitter to be up to $15bn (€11.3bn) which, with some 200m users, would equate to the value of a user to just under €57. They then go on and compare it to other companies and suggest that that value is really rather low. They provide comparative numbers:

  • Amazon: €809
  • Walmart: €752
  • Vodafone: €327
  • Google: €200
  • Facebook: €72
  • Procter & Gamble: €49

Now, this is of course a somewhat crude analysis (an Amazon or Vodafone user arguably must be a lot more valuable as those two companies derive value directly from transactions with and by those) but it is interesting nonetheless. If you want to see snazzy graphs and/or can read German, here’s the article.

MoPub is Now With Twitter

Over everything else that’s been going on today (my resignation from BlackBerry only putting one of the smaller cats amongst my own pidgeons), I nearly missed a rather remarkable deal: Twitter is buying MoPub for – according to unconfirmed sources – $350m in stock. Not too shabby, huh?

Why’s that then? Well, we have all been following Twitter’s attempts to turn its growing user base into dollars for (arguably) too long. Their previous (and current) initiatives may have gained somewhat over previous attempts but they still do not really stack up in terms of revenue to what their powerful network (which has famously made regimes tumble down) would suggest it could do.

They have been looking for an ad exchange for a while (the signs were on the wall then) and MoPub looks like a good fit: they are a truly “mobile first” company as was, arguably, Twitter (they have had more mobile usage from Day 1 than most other networks). They run a real-time ad-exchange, meaning the offer of an open space is being created the moment a page loads, an app opens, something happens – in real time (check here for a better explanation). It is basically like Google AdWords for mobile, with the nifty variation that they couple all sorts of mobile inventory and sources into one output. Rather sweet. This of course makes even more sense for Twitter than it might for some other folks as Twitter is “changing” by the second depending on waves of popularity – and, as I said before, a lot of it is on mobile – and it will be more still in the future. So this dynamic nature coupled with the mobile-centric view of MoPub will, I suspect, have been the part that made Twitter part with that much of their stock.

As to this being an all-stock deal (if what TC reports is true): Twitter is probably one of the better pre-IPO stock to hold, I suppose… 😉

The Power of Platforms (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at the power of platforms. In that post, I tried to trace the line from the shift of platform power and suggested that (in mobile) after carriers and operating systems, we would now be looking to services and applications. I specifically pointed out the shift that Apple’s initial break-up of the first powerhouse, the network operators (or carriers if you prefer that term) was under threat from Android, which itself struggled with a number of things.

Android has the challenge of platform fragmentation (and Tim Cook had some scathing remarks and stats as to that tonight). So our current poster-boy rushes to make use of the time lent to it whilst the others are busy with fragmentation (Android) and new platform roll-outs (Microsoft and, yes, BlackBerry).

Apple Reacts

Now, today, Apple showed us that it understands this thing (unless it was incidental but I doubt that): the products it presented at its annual WWDC weren’t so mindblowing if you’re not an out-and-out fangirl (OK, maybe with the exception of the new Mac Pro; that was pretty cool). But aside from that, they showed overdue UI adaptations and slick weather apps plus they borrowed a little bit from Microsoft (gasp!) on the “flat design” (which shouldn’t have been that big a surprise as I’m sure this was the first time that Sir Jony Ive looked longingly to Redmond) as well as from BlackBerry (even bigger gasp!) on the innovative (and insanely useful) gesture controls, which make life a lot easier on a small screen (and I would argue that the BlackBerry Hub is a whole lot more useful than the bits and pieces Apple showed us tonight).

Tight Service Tie-ins

However, the big one was not in these rather cosmetic changes (unless you believe the “biggest, best, boldest” ever rhetoric of the Apple execs. It was deeper and more profound but also such that one doesn’t necessarily want to harp about it all that much (and you’ve got to hand it to them: boy, do they run product presentations well). If you watch the video of the presentation again, you will realise this was mostly about tying in services and applications: Air Drop, iWork on iCloud (might work if they only would get Pages and Numbers up to scratch; hyped about Keynote though, so I can finally force my 80 MB decks down people’s throats on Windows machines…), iTunes (with radio or not), improvements on mail, calendar, etc., sharing options that include Facebook and Twitter out of the box, etc, etc all do one thing: they tie into the platform better. They deliver additional hooks that make it harder to switch to someone else. And that is smart.

This will work as long as there is no application or service platform evolving that may choose someone else – perhaps (gasp!) even to the exclusion of iOS. Because, you see, Apple for the time being only (!?) leverages its current OS platform power. It “only” makes use of the might it has from the previous regime in order to carry it into the next one. It does so better than most (all?) at the moment but it is still a crutch, and a crutch won’t win you a race. And hence I will sit waiting and watching. Because OS is not the last frontier of platform domination!


Here’s a Challenge: Marry Mobile & Local…

So, what if you could effectively combine mobile and local? As in asking someone if there is a free washing machine in the launderette down the road (before you haul your laundry down there), if Lady Gaga is on stage already (or if it is still that pesky opener), that sort of thing. Sounds cool? Yeah. Have we heard about this before? Hell yeah. Do you know of anyone who has solved this successfully? Erm…

The funny thing is we all know how important it is. We all use mobile local services all the time: the use of maps and navigation (for one thing) have changed tremendously by the introduction of GPS into mobile phones. There is a plethora of services we all use that use it. However, they barely seem to scratch the surface as yet.

MoboQ to the Rescue?

But, alas, help is on hand. There actually IS a service that is doing just that: it WILL tell you about that washing machine, about free parking slots, about almost everything you want to know. And they have, well, 100,000 users so far. So not Twitter but, alas not Color either (they allegedly had 400,000 users before they shut down). But, hey, they didn’t raise 41m bucks for nothing either… And, well, that means that there might just not be someone in just my neighbourhood just now, huh?

It gets better (no, worse) though: Because, if you ask just who that mythical company is, the answer is not the former employee # 21 from Google an unknown Facebook rockstar engineer or, sorry, a Stanford nearly-grad, either? No. The service is called MoboQ and is operated by Sina Weibo, the “small” Chinese provider with some 400m users on this Twitter-esque service.

(And, no I did not pick this up myself. Hal Hodson wrote about it in the New Scientist. Really cool magazine, you should subscribe to it! [and, no, I don’t earn a commission if you do])

Unicorns are Hard to Breed

Sooooooo: 100,000 users out of 400m and the service has been operating for a year now. That’s a conversion rate of, what, 0.025%. Not really a landslide victory then, huh? And that is the challenge of this unicorn of all mobile services: they are really hard to breed (scil. scale).

Why is that, you say? Well, because they are, well, local. That is to say, you need to convince a fair few people in your area to use it. And unless you have a really successful SXSW launch (the stuff of legends, I know), this might not be that easy to do. Mobile & local each work on the combination of total usage plus really smart algorithms. This is why I am blogging about mobile stuff: huge scale there. This is why Yelp, FourSquare, you name it thrive: huge scale there. But the moment you need real-time response, you need an insane amount of usage to be able to make sensible use of algorithms. I would posit not even Facebook can do this (oh, wait, they try: there is this thing called Nearby they do. Heard of it? No, me neither…)

Help at Hand?

The New Scientist offers a couple of soundbites from execs involved in the various programmes and all sound a little stale, to be honest: “people will use it once they become aware of it” said someone from USC. Really? Well, I don’t know.

Now, I agree that this is somewhat of the holy grail of combining two hugely powerful concepts but the big spanner in the wheels is as per the above: tough to algorithmitise (is that a word?) and possibly slowed down by privacy concerns and queries as to the value extraction formulae applied: what is in it for me if I am over-sharing local information about my very own locale; I know my own environment, no need for me to reciprocate then… Because, you see, 95%+ people do not actually race around the world that much other than on vacation. And isn’t the first thing they look for when they finally are on vacation either a drink or bliss uninterupted by digital hyper-connectedness? Just sayin’…

So I continue to wait for that killer combo app/service a little longer then, I guess. Sigh…

Social Media Growth (Infographic)

Thanks for the heads-up goes to my good friend Jonathan MacDonald!

Social Media: The Emperor’s New Herald

It is this time of the year where people start looking forward (and back) and come up with clever analyses of things we have always known and those that we haven’t. And because Europe has always (?) been the thoughtful and fashionably skeptic part of the world, it is that one of the leading newspapers, the Guardian, posts an article querying, gosh, Twitter. The link actually contains the words


The proof? Iran is still not free (or so most of us Westeners think) and only 0.027% of Iranians use Twitter. There you have it. It concludes that it is all narcissistic navel-gazing. The comments, alas, are a delight to read… 🙂

Where are we then? Is this true? It is – you may have guessed that this be my stance – not. And here’s why:

Social media (Twitter included) is nothing in itself, it merely defines a group of tools. Therefore, it is not the emperor’s new clothes, it is – if anything – the emperor’s new herald: if the emperor has nothing new, interesting, noteworthy to tell, it will remain as dull and meaningless as before but social tools actually allow you to filter, to focus, to spread noteworthy, sensible and truly good stuff to a group of people that is much larger than you could have reached before at a cost that is (per capita and in toto) much lower than before. And that means it is one cool tool!

There are a gazillion reasons to dismiss Twitter (or Facebook – although fewer people seem to do just that these days) on the basis of boring info about breakfast/lunch/supper/traffic jam on way home or to hype it up on the basis of opposition in Iran/arrests in Egypt/tsunamis in Thailand or a mere plane landing on the Hudson. The argument fails both ways. It is not that. It is the fact that it is possible to communicate at nigh zero costs with people that may be interested – and it is upon the people to find you but it is also upon you to find the interesting bits!

I am already slightly tired to refer to Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody who provides us with some beautiful examples of this but the point is (and here Shirky’s academic background serves him really well): it is a tool, and a tool makes only sense (or nonsense) in the hand of its user. So here’s to everyone who complains about useless and redundant info over Twitter: choose better who you follow; you would not stick around some dinner party endlessly discussing the virtues of starching napkins either, would you?

As with every tool (say, a hammer), social tools are more useful, the easier and intuitive they are to use. If it is self-explanatory on how to extract something positive (e.g. to get that bloody nail into that bloody board), the better (and if you can do it without walking away with a bloody thumb, even better). At the moment, many people walk away from Twitter because of a bloody thumb. But would you dismiss a hammer only because you hit yourself? Probably not. Unless you find a better hammer of course…

Finally (and because I called this blog “on mobile”), here’s why the combination of social tools with this other tool in everyone’s hands, namely the mobile phone, is so powerful:

  • Daily circulation of newspapers worldwide: 450,000,000
  • Number of TV sets in use worldwide: 1,500,000,000
  • Number of Internet users worldwide: 1,600,000,000
  • Number of credit cards worldwide: 1,700,000,000
  • Number of toothbrushes in use worldwide: 2,250,000,000
  • Number of mobile subscriptions worldwide: 4,600,000,000.

Have a great 2010!

Cartoon credit: Hugh MacLeod (http://gapingvoid.com/)

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