Look at that graph. It’s so steep it reminds me of the mountain range the yodeling man had to run up on ‘The Price is Right’.
What does it show? The popularity of Twitter. The soaring, off-the-scale dominance of the micro-blogging market.
Luckily, the site has managed to secure some extra funding which means our pal the Fail Whale doesn’t turn up too often — even on inauguration day he was rarely seen.
This is in big contrast to the early days — right back there in January ‘08 — when the whale would saunter up at any given moment, disrupting your conversations and making everyone a bit grumpy.
Another thing was different back then: SMS updates.
Used to be that you could subscribe to anyone’s updates and have them sent to your mobile for free. Or, you could just have your DMs sent to you. Whatever — the point was that you could take Twitter away with you.
Then they stopped it. It was far too expensive, and it was crippling the business. Now, the alternative is to download various Twitter apps, or use their mobile site, and keep up to speed that way.
But it lacks that sense of immediacy. You can never rely on yourself to check your Twitter feed constantly all day, and so you’d risk missing out on something important. It was a big part of the service.
But maybe now is the time to bring it back.
Twitter urgently needs to adopt a format that’ll allow it to make money. Now, unlike most new media sites, plastering Google Ads everywhere would fail miserably. It’ll earn a bit, yes, but not enough.
So how does Twitter bring in the cash?
I propose this. There are two types of premium account. The first type, for you and me, would charge us around £40 for two years, and for that price we will be allowed to assign certain feeds to follow. I’ll call it ‘Personal Premium‘. So, for example, I’d probably follow BreakingNewsOn and a couple others. It means I’ll be able to get a text every time BreakingNewsOn do a news alert.
Twitter could introduce further controls. How about I want to subscribe to Jemima Kiss, but don’t want everything she writes. Maybe, in my current job, I could filter her feed so I only get texts when she mentions ‘BBC’ in her tweet.
And, as part of Personal Premium, you would regain the ability to get DM messages sent straight to your mobile.
The second account… let’s call it Publisher Plus.
Say you’re a publisher. You want to reach people in as many ways as possible. Currently, you have to just hope they’re reading their feed and they spot you. How about, for a fee, Twitter gave you the ability to allow any user — not just those with Personal Premium accounts — to subscribe to SMS updates from your feed.
Your fee would depend on two things: How often you post, and how many people subscribe. In other words: how many texts are sent. In the same way that websites have to assess their bandwidth costs, Twitter publishers with Publisher Plus priveledges will be able to monitor their reach — upgrading if neccessary.
Does it work?
I think it does. As a user, I’d enjoy having SMS direct messages back. As a publisher, I’d love to be able to offer all my followers free text updates. What a fantastic way to reach people.
To help picture the idea in action, here’s a real life scenario:
- I’m a normal user – I don’t have a Premium Personal account.
- However, Transport for London run a Twitter feed for London Underground service updates.
- Because TfL has signed up to be a Publisher Plus, I can subscribe to free SMS updates on the trains.
- But hang on — the Underground is always going wrong. I’ll be swamped. So, I configure my updates to only include the terms “Hammersmith and City”, “Wood Lane” and “Kings Cross”.
- Hey presto, I’m being provided with updates that matter to me. Ace.
If I was a Premium Personal subscriber, I could perhaps run an SMS update for the same terms said by all users. So, for example, if someone tweeted “Wood Lane station is closed, arg!” I would know to steer clear. This would have worked this morning. Kings Cross station was closed due to overcrowding. It didn’t appear on the TfL site, but look what happened on Twitter. (Indeed, one tweet mentions the fact the TfL site STILL has nothing about the evacuation of one of Britains busiest train stations.)
If the cost of having a Publisher Plus account on Twitter was significantly less than setting up an internal text service (like the one TfL and everyone else adopts now), then businesses would be mad not to use Twitter’s service. Reliability may be a concern, but with all that extra money in the coffers, they can afford to keep it up.
I’d pay for that, wouldn’t you?