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Free? Why Not Better?

that poor bird
Twitter’s down again. Oh, duh.

This time when twitter went down, Dare and Om were kind enough to link to an earlier post I had made where I guessed about Twitter’s messaging trouble and floated an idea for a twitter proxy. Thanks for mentioning us guys.

But, what about this proxy idea? it’s so easy for us to do, where is it??

Why don’t you guys release the twitter proxy?

As I wrote to Louis Gray some time ago, we started to. Actually we ripped out the messaging functions in our over-zealous feed reader and first built a twitter clone with a few more features.

But something happened: I got tired of free services.

I’m bored of free

That’s why our reader isn’t out of the shop yet, either.

When we made the feed reader, everybody who signed up created an increased marginal cost: our little bots were crawling all these feeds and creating millions of assets, and we had no clear way to recoup a dime. Sure, servers are cheap, and our infrastructure is cheaper, but still. Down the road we ought to figure out a Freemium approach, but the potential seems less than enormous.

Twitter has the same problem, as does FriendFeed and Google Reader. These are all are wonderful services, with some of the most enthusiastic and supportive user bases around. They make users happy. But today they are cost centers. Ads? Meh. Even Techcrunch wants to stop paying half his revenue to FM media and the ad sales networks.

What’s better than free? Better

I happen to agree with most of what Kevin Kelly says. I already know that charging on the interwebs is crazy talk! I also already know that no one will pay for crappy content, for derivative blogs posts, or for LOL cats.

Go ahead and say I’m nuts: “No one has ever been, or will ever be, successful by charging for digital assets. Everything on the Internet should be free free free. You should just run adwords and be happy with whatever Google decides they should give you.”

That’s all true, except applesomehowmanagedtosell4billionsongsonitunes and is now the largest retailer of music. Not bad. But what would happen if they were more open, more flexible and less retail focused? What if they offered new types of digital products? I dunno, but it could be interesting.

We do happen to have this nifty infrastructure for a digital sales system. And after all that work with the reader, we have our backend fairly sorted. We also have some ideas for some new products, and new takes on old products.

It would be a shame to not take a shot at this beast and try for something better than free. I would rather try–and fail hard– than to not try.

If we fail, who knows? Maybe Twitter will still be down and won’t be too late to fire up that proxy service. Update: changed title and removed a rant.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted June 22, 2008 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Firstly, no-one would pay for Twitter, and trying to charge would destroy the site. The site depends on momentum and user uptake – I just can’t see how they could charge and keep the user base.

    Secondly, if people won’t pay for Twitter, and they won’t, then the idea that people would pay for a Twiiter *proxy* is ridiculous. 99% of their users wouldn’t even know what a proxy is.

    Assuming you have developed a system for solving Twitter’s scaling woes, my suggestion for “monetising” it is to sell it to the only possible customer – Twitter themselves. Failing that, open source it. Failing that, if you can’t bear to share your 1337 codez with the world – well then that was a waste of time!

    Your analogy about Apple is completely misguided. The only reason they can charge to use the iTunes store is that its contents are protected by IP law – laws which are aggressively enforced. Absent those laws or their enforcement, you bet there would be free, or much cheaper, alternatives.

    Your tone seems resentful, as if you’re annoyed at all those users who dared to sign up for your free service and are now costing you time and money to run your “little bots”. But whose fault is that? Is it theirs, for adopting in good faith something you offered them? Or yours, for not thinking it through in advance and going live without even the semblance of a business plan?

    Charging for a Twitter proxy is a laughable idea. Charging for a feed reader service – nothing but a web-based aggregator for other people’s content – is an equally laughable idea. If you can’t think of any way to make money from your service – and the notion of simply making the world a better place isn’t enough – then here’s an idea: do something different.

    And by the way. If you’ve got this world-class content distribution & database system, why do you have your blog on wordpress.com?!

  2. Posted June 22, 2008 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Actualy hkstar, I agree with you. And I think twitter is a fantastic idea and its best as a free service.

    And although the occasional blogger & twitter user claim they would pay a few dollars a month or even $100/year for twitter, I doubt the numbers would bear out.

    You’re also right that if you can’t charge for the main service, then charging for a twitter proxy is a smaller opportunity.

    But my iTunes and 4-bilion-songs-sold is actually the point of the post. Plenty of people like premium content enough to pay for it. They might not pay twitter posts or twitter proxies, or for-pay feed readers, but premium content has enormous value.

    And yet, other than mp3s and videos, our options for buying premium digital content is pretty limited today.

    We need to break the restrictions of what a retail establishment can sell. I think fans want more content, with more options in more formats with more fun.

    So we’re working to expand the ideas and possibilities of premium content and make it all more interesting for fans and stars.

    Nothing boring about that at all!

    (P.S. I like the wordpress UI)


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