Who Will Pay to Tweet?

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Social networking aggregator FriendFeed has added Twitter support to its service. Now you can keep up to date with all your Twitter friends on FF, even those who aren't FriendFeeders themselves. In addition, you can post tweets and even comment on updates from friends all within your FriendFeed profile.

FriendFeed is just the latest social networking service to incorporate Twitter, a microblogging site that limits entries, called "tweets," to 140 characters or less. Tweets can be sent and received via text message and Twitter.com. In addition, tons of Twitter applications such as Tweetdeck, Twitterific, and EventBox, let you use Twitter on your desktop without actually visiting the site.

While these services might be useful, it raises a question that has dogged Twitter for some time now: With so many ways to access Twitter through a third party, how will the company make money? The New Yorker recently posed this question to Twitter's Chief Product Officer, Evan Williams, at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. His response? "We haven't focused on it yet and we can't say how it's going to work." Williams said the company is confident it can easily turn tweets into dollars, because so many businesses are starting to connect with their customer base via Twitter.

I certainly hope Williams is right. Twitter is quickly becoming the most useful and practical social networking tool available today. It has significantly changed how we gather and disseminate information. Southwest Airlines uses Twitter to warn customers about bad weather and flight delays. Organizers Tweeted their way through the protests and ensuing police action during the 2008 Republican Convention. Some of the first reports about the terror attacks in Mumbai were tweets, as were reports about the miraculous US Airways landing in the Hudson River and last spring's devastating earthquake in China.

It would be a shame if all of this disappeared, because Twitter couldn't figure out a business model. That being said, the future does look bright for the micro-blogging service. Yesterday, Twitter says it recorded five times more tweets than normal due to the excitement over President Obama's inauguration, and last week Twitter surpassed Digg in overall market share for the first time. These are definitely positive signs, but they still point to the main problem plaguing many social networking sites. For these applications to survive, at some point popularity must translate into dollars earned.

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