Twitter is starting to monetize by letting users get paid for advertising in their tweets. It is the beginning of the end. Oh, the end won’t come soon, and it won’t even look like an end. There will be an upswing. Twitter and people will make money and things will blossom. Then things will plateau. Then Twitter will become just like every other communications and entertainment medium. It will still exist, it may remain profitable, but it will lose its soul and everything it promised in the beginning will become a faded, jaded memory.
The above prophecy of Twitter isn’t hard to predict. It is the same path that every other entertainment medium has followed since the dawn of advertising. Yes, advertising is the way to make money, because apparently we’re all foolish enough to keep wanting to be manipulated. But like radio, broadcast TV, films, YouTube, DVD/Blueray discs, blogs, the Internet in general, newspapers, and your local church bulletin, everything that started out as a way to communicate and then looked at advertising as a way to monetize, the message gets lost in the money at some point.
I’m not saying advertising is bad. But, there comes a point in the rise and fall where it becomes the reason for the message (or message system it gets attached to), and the message, while still there, gets lost, twisted, or worse yet, becomes irrelevant. You need look no further than the current rapid decline of print media for the best example.
Robert Scoble has a good piece that explores the issues relating to advertising on Twitter. He covers most of the issues and how he feels about them. It is worth reading, but the larger point I’m pondering deals more with the loss of the message more than the survival of the medium.
I remember once directing a play where the story called for one of the characters to drink a Pepsi. On seeing a dress rehearsal, the producer demanded that the playwright change the name of the soft drink to something made up and that the props department come up with a can that resembled no known brand. Her statement was something like this: Pepsi isn’t paying me for product placement so they don’t get a free advertisement. The fact that there were significant references in the play to “the Pepsi generation” as a part of the story didn’t seem to phase her. None of us on that production team ever worked for that producer again. She’s still successful to this day.
Remember Cable TV? The initial promise was subscription only and no advertising. That quickly faded. Now you can’t watch a commercial break on Comcast’s cable without advertising that is so jammed together that most of the ads don’t even run their full length. I still wonder about the “make goods” on that and if anyone is really watching.
Oh, and the movies. It used to be we enjoyed advertising done right at the movies. They were and still are called previews. Then came the “20.” Chocked full of ads for products that included TV shows that to my way of thinking are direct competition for the movie house. Something got really twisted along that path. I’m waiting for previews to start containing advertising and am somewhat surprised that hasn’t happened yet, beyond product placement.
The bottom line is a simple one to discern. Twitter will profit from this, as will some users. But in the ever growing quest for the almighty buck, the reason so many became attracted to Twitter will slowly fade from memory. At some point when advertising declines yet again due to economic concerns, or the next big thing comes along, Twitter will suffer the same fate as the mediums before it, but that will be long after it lost its soul. If it ever had one.
We’ll know this is a success when someone comes up with some piece of software that blocks ads on Twitter, and the Twitter gods will cry foul in the same way that advertising execs do about skipping ads on DVRs, and folks who complain about “the 20” and purposefully show up late to movies. Advertising, like Twitter, is a human endeavor, and like all creations by humans, we’ll find a way to screw it up.