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Sunday, 6 October 2013

Money changes everything: Twitter and its IPO

If you're not paying for it you're the product ... As Twitter readies for its IPO and the potential for more "promoted tweets" looms like a sick headache for hundreds of millions of Twitter users globally the memory of what happened to HootSuite comes back to me. Many will not know how HootSuite, the Twitter application, changed its operation one day a few years ago. "Sticky" tweets in the way of ads stayed at the top of the user's feed and you had to pay a monthly fee now to get rid of them. At the time this happened I immediately changed my Twitter app to TweetDeck, which was subsequently bought by Twitter. So what's next?

Sitting at a point further along the marketing continuum is Facebook. Facebook users are by now accustomed to the ads that are perennially served up within the user interface. Some are accurate for the demographic - remember blithely telling Facebook your date of birth all those years ago when it was just supposed to be a fad? - and others are stupid beyond the comfort of click-through apologies. But recently ads are being served to me that show that Facebook is accessing my browser history logged at other places on the web, such as links received in emails and those served up in Google searches. Facebook is getting smarter as time goes on in its effort to maximise its monetisation of me.

Facebook is a bit of a closed shop for me, and it's mainly where I keep in touch with friends and people I know from real life. It's anyway a goofy interface, a crowded hogde-podge of features, functions and knick-knacks most of which are never used and sit there like happy automatons waiting to have their ears scratched. I tolerate Facebook like I tolerate a favourite pair of shoes that despite having run down at the heel and despite the immovable stains on the plastic uppers continue to serve as a reliable back-up in case the better pair are out of service due to damp, for example.

Twitter is the place where things really happen, and so the likelihood that the interface will become as goofy as Facebook's fills me with dismay. The old adage comes back now like a mocking call from somewhere near the back of the theatre: We told you so. I never wanted to believe that Twitter would turn into a cake stall, a shop window, an unwanted marketing brochure dropped in the mailbox, a full-body bus advert, a 30-second pre-play online video ad that makes you want to scream blue murder. A heavy feeling sits in the pit of my stomach when I think of what could happen. And the song returns to remind me: Money changes everything ...

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