> Ad Free Conversation

Ad Free Conversation

Posted on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 | No Comments

One of the best commentators on all things web is a guy called Paul Carr, former Guardian and Telegraph reporter, author and current TechCrunch writer. He’s an inspiration and one of the main reasons why I love to blog so much – if only I could get just a small percentage of his audience figures and actually get paid to write these things; but that’s not the point of this post (perhaps another day).


Mr Carr’s latest post on TechCrunch is about the inclusion of advertised tweets that are purposely included into the real-time Twitter stream and the potential of monetising the content within Twitter, much like Google do every day with their search results. Whilst I think that Twitter is almost destined to include advertising at some point or another, it seems the ways that these ads are delivered are subject to a lot of debate and careful thinking.


Including advertisements right there in the real-time stream are invasive and would no doubt be distracting within the conversation window/pane, because the stream is exactly that; a conversation. Sites such as Digg can get away with advertisements right there in the middle of the stream because, even though they are clearly defined, they are non-intrusive of what the user is trying to get out of the site – i.e., you only click on the links for the stories you want to read or vote up (for the uninitiated the ads on Digg are also voted up, ensuring the only popular ads that generate clicks are shown more prominently – a very clever system in my opinion).


Even if Twitter were to display these in-stream advertisements in a clear way, such as changing the background or text colour on paid-for tweets, they would be displayed right there in the middle of the conversation and distracting for users.


An idea suggested by Robert Scoble is that the advertisements appear within their own separate window outside of the real-time stream. Whilst I believe that if Twitter were to go down the advertising route this would be most ideal solution (keeping the ads out of the real-time stream at all costs), a separate column or pane much like Google dedicated to “Sponsored Links” aka advertisements.


The problem Twitter then faces is getting these ads noticed and generating revenues. The second problem is given the amount of Twitter clients out there that connects through the API’s, how would they be able to get these ads displayed on these clients? The only way would be to include them within the real-time stream – which as I’ve already alluded to, would disrupt the flow of the conversation.


This puts Twitter in a bit of a unique position. The only other similar company I can think of is Facebook but even they don’t have this particular advertisement problem because the majority of its users use the actual Facebook website and not a third party application that plugs into the site (though there are applications that exist that tap into Facebook’s real-time feed, especially as it tries to emulate Twitter’s real-time feed more and more). This means that ads can be placed on the actual website and be seen by the majority of its users, placing ads on the Twitter website means that they will only reach a percentage of the potential audience.


And this is exactly the problem that Twitter faces! They are dammed if they do and they dammed if they don’t. It would be foolish to think that the site can continue to operate at its current pace without some sort of revenue generating scheme behind it – and we all know that the internet works on advertisements.


But this is exactly the reason why I disagree with Paul Carr on this, there is no way that ad-free conversation is possible on the web, in a world where every word that is typed or spoken or monitored by some advanced, complex system generates an advertisement that is tailored uniquely to you.


In particular I’m reminded of Google’s Gmail service which uses complex algorithms to scan parts of your email construct to determine which advertisements are displayed in return for each users free allotment of mailbox space. Users were at first outraged that Google could possible be reading their mail and profiting from it – a violation of the content held within that private digital letter. Of course, Google were doing no such thing as reading personal, private email; but its systems were using algorithms that intelligently scanning the mail to determine which ads were displayed within the browser.


If Google are monetising the conversation (which they are presumably using the same algorithms for Google Wave too), then it seems unlikely that – at some point – Twitter won’t monetise their conversations too, presumably with a similar targeted advertisement campaign/system.

My advice to you is to enjoy the ad-free conversation whilst it lasts, eventually the apes will arrive with a change, and that change could quite easily make or break the Twitter service as we know it.

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