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16 November 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 2:28am

Who rules Twitter?

Wired explores the clashes between Twitter users and staff

By George Eaton

There’s a fascinating piece on Twitter in the latest issue of Wired, highlighting the creative tension between the site’s users and managers. The user-driven evolution of Twitter (responsible for innovations such as retweets and hash tags) has left the site’s adherents acutely sensitive to any formal changes.

For instance, a Suggested Users List, a collection of around 200 celebrities, companies and thinkers for newcomers to follow, prompted an outraged reaction from users who felt it to be unreasonably hierarchical.

The article also explores the perennial question: “How will Twitter make money?” The site’s executives reasonably remind us that Google and Facebook (which turned a profit for the first time last year) didn’t begin with a business model, either.

According to the piece, Twitter is on track to bring in $4m in revenue this year. Does anyone know where the money will come from? Is it just interest from the capital they’ve raised?

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One possibility canvassed by the article is that Twitter could make money from analysing the information contained in the billions of tweets on its site. I still think that targeted advertising offers a far more reliable revenue stream, albeit one likely to lead to further user disquiet.

The site’s cute image certainly belies a remarkable ambition. As the Twitter chief executive, Evan Williams, puts it: “We want to make Twitter indispensable, so it tells people what they need to know and what they want to know and hopefully not much else.”

Should he succeed, it will be a remarkable victory for simplicity. As Wired’s Steven Levy writes: “Essentially, Twitter left a ball and a stick in a field and lurked on the sidelines as its users invented baseball.” How to referee this unending game is the challenge the firm’s leaders now face.

 

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