Whenever I see someone like Robert Scoble or David Pogue say that Twitter is so revolutionary because they were looking for a good sushi place while they were vacationing in Timbuktu and they tweeted about it and they got 248,305 answers in .0002 seconds, I think “Yeah, sure, but that’s only because you have three hundred gajillion followers.”
When I ask my followers for advice on a good sushi place in my neighbourhood, all I get are links to lolcats.
Which is why my idea for how Twitter can finally start making money is something called Twitter Answers.
Twitter Answers turns you into a Scoble or a Pogue, with thousands of people at your beck and call to answer your questions in real time.
Here’s how it works.
Any Twitter user could opt-in to receive real time questions about one or several topics — it would work like putting yourself in WeFollow and tagging yourself with topics of expertise.
Then, when someone like me has a question, I can tweet it with the appropriate hashtags to classify my question into such a topic. I would write “What’s a good sushi place near Reuilly-Diderot for tonight? #restaurant #paris,” check a “Use Twitter Answers” box, and the question would be pushed to users who have opted-in to Twitter Answers with the tags #restaurant and #paris.
But since this is a Twitter Answers query, I also set a monetary amount I’m willing to pay to get an answer.
If you really want a good answer soon, or if a question is really hard, you might set a high price for your tip, but if you don’t care all that much you might set a lower price. In time, a market would be created as price discovery works its magic.
The real beauty to Twitter Answers would be that it’s real time. So, by default (you could turn this off), the tip that you set for getting a Twitter Answer would start at a higher price and then, after, say, two minutes, it would begin to drop along an asymptotic curve.
This would have two advantages:
- answerers would have a bigger incentive to provide real-time answers;
- questioners might want to to set higher tips, calculating that they’ll only pay a fraction on several of them.
How does Twitter make money off all this?
They could simply take a cut of, say, 10% on each tip.
Or they could replicate the Mahalo Answers model, and other virtual currency models: create a virtual currency, let you convert your dollars into Twitter dollars at 1/1, but take a cut when you convert them back.This would allow them to spread their virtual currency beyond Twitter and provide a grey-label solution to sites that want to monetise their audiences with virtual goods/virtual currencies with revshare.
This would be a light-touch, high margin business model once it is set up, since it mostly depends on people signing up and powering the service.
In the 10%-cut model Twitter would just have to use a third party like PayPal or Amazon to power the payments system and update its API to allow Twitter apps to use Twitter Answers.
Twitter could even link Twitter up with iTunes for those who tweet from their iPhones. Apple has been recalcitrant to allow commerce within iPhone apps, but something tells me they might be open to doing a deal with a company like Twitter.
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