Would you pay for Twitter?’, a very good question, asked by Walt Ribeiro, at his blog. It made me think, and I came to the conclusion that I’d pay (though it all depends on the price). Apparently, I’m in a majority. There’s possibly no ‘pain’ that Twitter is addressing in my case, unless I count the need for every human being to communicate. But I can do that on Facebook, and if its streaming conversation I want, there’s friendfeed, or Kwippy. But yes, twitter has a charm of its own, especially when you start with so many interesting people who share different interests of yours.

The revenue model for Twitter is something that has caught the imagination of a whole load of people, since everyone, I think, is keen to prevent an ad based model. (yes, including me). The Twitter CEO also agrees. And in a lesser way, there have been discussions on the revenue models of Facebook and Friendfeed as well. A good read on this here. Meanwhile, I read an excellent article, which had a P&G digital guru stating that marketers don’t belong to Facebook. In his own words,

“What in heaven’s name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?”…. … We hijack their own conversations, their own thoughts and feelings, and try to monetize it.”

A superb perspective, I thought. He goes on to wonder who said this (user generated media in general) was media, since all consumers were doing were trying to talk to each other. Its a wonderful line of thought, and when I think about it, I’d have to agree with him. But it makes me wonder about the nice folk who built Twitter and Facebook and Friendfeed. While they are nice people, I doubt if they had such massive charity in mind. They build the infrastructure, they bear the costs, I’m happy using it…for free. I go into a coffee shop, and pay money for the coffee, that’s the basic service, I never wonder if they work on a freemium model. I watch a movie in a theatre, pay money for it, and only grumble when they show ads. I suffer both kinds of monetisation, and still go back. But when the Fail whale happens, i rant, and threaten not to go back. Thankfully, I do go back.  I wonder if there’s something wrong with this scenario.

So, monetising FB, Friendfeed, Twitter – why is it such a difficult thing? Is it because there’s no tangible value in them? But there must be, considering that millions use them everyday. In fact, I read a post yesterday that shows an example of tangible value created by Twitter. But then, the moment there’s a payment mechanism or an ad model discussed, there’s usually a user revolt. I still remember the extreme reactions to magpie.

A very long time back, someone thought of leveraging the audience that uses content, that became the fundamental way of running media businesses. Newspaper, television, radio businessses have not been built on content, they have been built on monetising the audience that uses the content. Then, a long time back, the web came into being, and someone started a price war that started at zero. So we had free content, free mail, free IM and we were generally happy. Over a period of time, some learnt to monetise, and Google learnt it so well (hell, without content!!), that it built a Google economy, which I agree, might be an inevitable future. But while the ‘customers get everything for free and advertisers pay for Ad Sense’ model is great for Google, I wonder if it’s fair to demand the same of other services that subsidise our conversations with each other.

Every UGC driven medium – Flickr, You Tube, Twitter, Facebook etc needs to find its own way of leveraging the audience. Template solutions might be a thing of the past.  Like I replied  to a comment on an earlier post of mine, I know quite a few twitter clients, while i know only one for FB. Facebook ‘s services compels users to visit the site, Twitter’s simplicity doesn’t. Every service is different. Ads are obviously not the greatest of solutions though both Facebook, and You Tube are increasingly going along that path. (Here’s an excellent read on Facebook monetisation) Twitter should find its own way of leveraging the audience its gaining daily. I personally thought the research based model that has been started by SocialToo is worth a shot, as one source of revenue. LinkedIn is already doing it. I also saw Twitpay today, and think there’s potential in it.

Meanwhile, I feel quite like a hypocrite when i consider services like Twitter Image, which is based on Twitter and charges $100 for a customised Twitter background, while Twitter doesn’t have a business model as far as we can see. I desperately want Twitter to crack their model soon, after all with 2500 plus tweets, there’s a lot of me in Twitter. If Twitter dies, a part of me dies too.

until next time, a sharing caring world, reluctant to share costs?