Monday, March 2, 2009

Monetizing the Microblog

Today's article in AdAge about Twitter's new push to derive revenue from search leaves me with some pretty mixed feelings. I'm all about finding ways to support services and utilities of great value, but this a very tricky challenge, especially when you consider the integrity of these platforms. 

Since YouTube's player was used as an example in the article, let's examine its use of search for a moment. Naturally, YouTube content is going to dominate search queries, after all, it's owned by Google and YouTube has the biggest captive network of users (including TV) arguably on the planet. As such, filtration and targeting remains partial. Take for example the latest Pizza Hut virals. If you watch this content on a YouTube player, you'll notice two things. First, the Google ads that overlay on the bottom third run Dominos text first in the rotation (or at least they did the last time I checked). Second, when you run a search for relevant content, Domino's mostly populates this field. Granted, Dominos likely has way more content that is available and indexed, but the point is that YouTube seems to be showing favor to the brand with most paid keywords, not necessarily the brand whose content we're seeking. 

So how does this affect a utility like Twitter or Plurk? Well, filtration and content management, which includes the quality and efficacy of searches, has been a hot-button issue amongst the Twitterati and microblogging community at large. The fact is that we need the improvements in this area, especially for those who have amassed a substantial following. The problem we face here is that if we monetize these improvements - which have been largely facilitated through open source tools like Twhirl and TweetDeck - we are potentially going against the grain of net neutrality. For one thing, paid search will inevitably control the ebb and flow of queries. For another, indexing will make it increasingly more difficult for individuals and smaller businesses to meta tag (or microtag) their content, whether it's text or video.

Much in the same way Facebook has endured harsh criticism from its user communities for plans to monetize data and ad-supported content, utilities like Twitter better tread lightly in charting this new course. One possible solution might be to focus on affiliate partnerships that capitalize on levering outreach programs, as opposed to focusing on the default mechanisms of search. This means that the platform itself should not be optimized for search, but rather the ways it can optimize other search efforts through things like interface customization or indexing exchanges within specific environments like blogs or forums.

We'll just have to see where this goes, but one thing's for sure, we've got a pretty powerful tool we can use to speak out about it...

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