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November 20, 2009

Embrace Our Twitter Ad Overlords, Assuming Relevancy

Those of you who have some history with the blog know that I am not a huge fan of advertising. I skip commercials on my TiVo. I don't click on banner ads online. I switch stations when listening to the radio, assuming I am not listening to my ad-free iTunes library or ad-free Sirius XM radio app. I once said, to some controversy, that most bloggers don't deserve any ad revenue at all, and also took considerable effort to report many Facebook advertisements as being offensive. But despite all this, with official word from Twitter COO Dick Costolo coming that the service will indeed include advertising in the very near future, I am fine - pending any future annoyances. Why? Because I am not anti-advertising. I am pro relevancy.

In my rant against bloggers who don't add clear value trying to get a piece of revenue, I aggressively said "services offer real value, bloggers don't", adding, "Web services are adding real value to the Web by changing the way we interact and communicate. Bloggers, myself included, are not. We are more like consumers than producers in this case, and the last time I checked, consumers pay, they don't get paid, no matter how excited we might be about a product."

After much debate, Twitter, a service which provides value to millions, is looking to bring ads to the table in what they promise will be a unique way. With the growing talent base at the company, there's no doubt they see what has happened to traditional advertising models, and they don't likely want to see a race to the bottom in terms of quality. In order not to damage the trust they have accumulated with users, they will need to provide a new and differentiated approach to this model that derives real value - for the company, for the advertiser and for the viewer. I don't want to see yet another copy of AdSense. I want to see something very new.

Overwhelmingly, most of us in the Tech Web want Twitter to succeed. Despite the many concerns we have had about the service and its occasional hiccups, we recognize its growing role in the world of communication, and see it as a growing player in infrastructure, taking share from e-mail, and my personal favorite, RSS. That the company would have to grow from a revenue-free model to one that has a revenue stream was clear, barring an early buyout from a stable tech leader.

Much of the problems with today's ads, which have seen lower rates for advertising across the board, has been tied to a lack of relevancy. I asked that ad companies would leverage my social profile and give me accurate ads downstream, through utilizing my content-rich Facebook profile or some other site. Twitter has a unique opportunity to know not just what my social profile looks like, but they know what I talk about, what I share, they will know, through geolocation, potentially where I am, and how I am characterized, thanks to lists.

I do not hate advertising. I hate bad, wasteful, untargeted advertising. If advertising is accurately targeted and provides value, it is much like finding a new blog post on a topic I like, or finding a product I really do want to buy. I have seen page after page after service after service that has taken the easy way out and slapped up advertising just because, but if somebody can get the formula right, it can only be good for the Web in general. Good services deserve revenue, and good customers deserve good, relevant, ads. I will hold my breath and hope that Twitter gets this formula right.