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The Profit Equation of Twitter-style Messages

Nate Westheimer’s piece “How Twitter Could Be Worth A Billion In A Year” got me thinking.

Nate’s idea was that instead of using @Name to indicate a reply, you could p Name $amount. Instead of reply to Joe, Pay Joe some $.

Nate is right: *is* a good idea, but it already exists. It was implemented by TextPayMe , founded in late 05, and acquired by Amazon in 2006. It’s still running, in fact. See it here.

Even with the backing of Amazon, this good idea never came to be worth a billion dollars. Maybe it’s that because that market size of “I-owe-you-$5-but-I-don’t-have-cash-to-pay-you-now” just isn’t that big. Or maybe transaction fees killed the convenience.

There’s Gotta Be a Pony in there Somewhere

Nick O’Neill expanded on the thought

“Micropayments are currently an area of rising importance. While I may not text my friends $0.50, I could easily see an API tying into Twitter to transfer small payments for a virtual gift or obtaining access to a premium blog post.”

Buying something you want? Now we’re getting somewhere! I seldom need to pay you back $5, but I do often spend $5. I buy physical goods via amazon, and digital goods via iTunes.

Money is the new message

Today’s Twitter users are about sending status updates. That’s great, it’s fun, etc., and the mobile + web integration is powerful.

But what if you could somehow sell those “messages”?

Wait a minute: iTunes has already sold more than 4B songs. Could a twitter-style service enable people to buy and sell all types of digital goods from each other? A sort of distributed iTunes store where you can sell what you want?

+ [all types of files] >

Since d (direct) messages are private and only visible to the direct recipient, it’s not a far leap to imagine a $ (premium) message type that requires payment to access.

In other words, don’t just send a message that you’d like some money (i.e. tipit), but put access controls on the messages so that they are only available to paying subscribers.

Now, what if these ($) premium messages could be a bit more flexible? What if they even supported attachments, so people could send –and thereby sell–pictures, videos, even mp3s or pdfs, directly. Talk about a lightweight model to sell and buy content!

And then, to extend the messaging “platform” even further, users should be able to publish or subscribe via SMS, web and EMAIL. Email?? Sure, it’s the easiest way attach a picture and send via your iphone. For security purposes, perhaps the email don’t contain all the content, but is used as a notification + publication channel.

Messaging + Commerce + Community = Profitability

I could also imagine artists setting up whole streams or flows where most or all the messages are premium. It becomes, in a sense, a fan club. Instead of buying messages in an a-la-carte fashion, just subscribe by the month. Commerce comes on the heels of value and is closely followed by profitability. If there’s no real value, there won’t be any commerce.

What kind of person has the value to attract large numbers of fans willing to pay them money for messages and photos?

  • Celebrities are one obvious market.
  • Let Lindey snap her own pics of herself in the club and scoop all the tabloids. Get it direct and in real time.

  • Sports personalities are also interesting.
  • Imagine a bad call on your favorite player. He hits the bench, and busts out a short message on his phone. A few moments later, all his subscribing fans erupt in unison with a chant. Who wouldn’t pay a few bucks a month to be part of that?

  • And what about musicians?
  • Maybe their music is freely included to subscribers of their messages . And while few musicians can manage to faithfully write blog posts,it’s easy to bang out an SMS to your fans and show some love! Attach a pic from the tour bus, of today’s rehearsal, or alternate album cover art.

This casual / personal / raw message format couldn’t be easier for the stars to do, and holds great value to fans.

Bring Fans Together

After you get a coveted message from a star, what do you want to do next? You want to tell other people!

So give the subscribers–the fans–private rooms, aka “Owners Circles” where they can discuss and share with each other. Give them a robust commenting solution–something with threaded comments, and spam protection and ignore-this-annoying-user controls, and give them an inbox where they can see replies to their comments.

The stars will want to hang out in these subscriber’s room, too, since it’s a concentration of their true fans.

Someone has to be First

Bringing payments and commerce to twitter-style messaging is too large to ignore. You just can’t have mobile + web this close together and ignore the great potent for fans and stars with lightweight commerce.

There’s zero doubt that a secure commerce solution would enhance the value of Twitter and chart a path to profitability. But will one of the big web properties (Myspace, Facebook , Amazon, Microsoft) get into this new messaging plus commerce plus community space before Twitter?

I don’t know what those other guys are doing, but I do know Assetbar is going to that party, and we’re rolling with Chris Onstad’s Achewood Web Comic, TIME’s Magazines No. 1 Graphic Novel for 2007.

Connecting Fans and Stars? Oh yeah. It’s time to turn this motha OUT.


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  1. […] 8, 2008 Update: Don’t forget about the profit equation to twitter-style messaging. There’s room to do something […]

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