Twitter Does Not Need to Be Free

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When new Web companies start up, the most attractive business model is to offer the service for free so the public can gain a quick understanding of the company's value proposition. A free Web service can grow quickly if it provides value. Along with that rapid growth, though, come the headaches of spammers and spambots--computer programs used to send annoying spam.

In the case of Twitter, the service has proved its worth many times over to countless users. And now is the right time for Twitter to start charging a fee--a modest annual fee of $10, say--for every account. People would be given two months to register their existing Twitter account with a credit card or debit card. All Twitter accounts that remain unregistered after two months would be deleted. If you don't think Twitter provides you $10 per year of value, you probably should not be using the service.

Two very important results would happen if Twitter went to a modest-annual-fee model. A lot of the information pollution on Twitter would be cleaned up, and Twitter would have another steady source of income. Running a company as globally important as Twitter with some 60 employees does not make sense. No way can 60 employees respond to all the genuine needs of Twitter users and the Twitter ecosystem of hardware, software, and people. The extra income from the $10 annual fee would allow Twitter to hire the employees it needs to run the company in a responsible fashion.

Here is one personal benefit to me that would happen when Twitter moves to an annual-fee model. If most of the spammers and spambots were removed from Twitter, I could more easily follow the people I want to follow on Twitter.

Who are the people I want to follow on Twitter? I'm interested in following some of the people who follow Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media. Tim is very thoughtful and perceptive in his tweets. In my books, the guy is simply genuine, smart, and decent--a rare combination in these times.

So I'm interested in hearing the ideas of other people who similarly admire Tim's thinking. Right now, locating those persons is almost impossible, even though I can see a full list of his more than one million followers. That follower list, however, is so polluted with spammers, it could take me hours to track down one real human being.

If all those spammer accounts were removed, I could start listening to the people who feel that Tim O'Reilly has important things to say. And I could listen to them directly, independent of retweets from Tim. Much as I value Tim's own ideas, I value the ideas of people in his intellectual ecosystem just as much. And Tim's time is finite. He can only retweet so much.

And as Twitter further develops its service, I might be able to quickly track down Tim O'Reilly followers who live in the same area I do. Now that capability would be immensely useful to me and would be similarly useful to others seeking to connect with local people following thinkers they admire.

Sometimes free becomes too expensive. Twitter should move to a modest-annual-fee basis. Doing so would immeasurably improve the service. In my case, I would be so relieved to be able to pay for it.

Phil Shapiro

The author works as the public geek at the Takoma Park Maryland Library and is an adjunct professor of education at American University. He can be reached at and on Twitter at

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