Q&A: Twitter exec explains new business plan

Goldman says 'promoted tweets' is Twitter's only advertising program -- for now

Industry analysts are quick to say that Twitter Inc. is going through a big change these days, moving from an interesting idea on to what could become a sustainable business.

Jason Goldman , vice president of products at Twitter, however, says Twitter's first plan for generating revenue, its spread as a political tool throughout the world as well as other advances are all simply pieces of a long-thought-out plan of management. There have been some surprises along the way, but that's just part of Twitter's journey, added Goldman, who joined the social networking firm in 2007.

In an interview with Computerworld this week, Goldman talked to about the plan announced last month for generating advertising revenue, what businesses want from the microblogging site, who he follows on Twitter and what he thinks about tweeting on Apple's new iPad tablet.

What's your 'promoted tweets' -- or tweets purchased by businesses for posting at the top of selected Twitter.com search results pages -- plan announced last month? The first phase is to get a better understanding of how well promoted tweets perform and how well users react to them. Once this is done, we will roll out promoted tweets to be shown on Twitter clients. Beyond that, we're going to continue to refine and include promoted tweets outside of just search. Have relevant tweets in your user timelines.

What are other revenue generating parts of the new business plan? Promoted tweets is the big thing we're focused on. Another is the commercial accounts product. It's more speculative. It's about services we can provide for businesses to make their use of Twitter more affective. It's a feedback mechanism to let them see what users think of them. We may charge for that service. We may not. We're going to see stuff on that later this year.

Any other advertising plans in the works? No. We continue to learn and be open to other ideas but they have to pass the test. We're making a bet with promoted tweets. We're not working on other advertising plans. I'm not saying we won't someday, but we're not working that right now.

Is business use of Twitter increasing? We haven't categorized users as businesses or not ... but it's a minority. We have started working with businesses to build more services for them. They're looking for ways to understand the effectiveness of what they're doing on Twitter. So much of the activity happens outside of Twitter.com, so they need to know what happens through a longer lens at the whole ecosystem. How many people were engaged in the tweet I wrote on desktop clients compared to the tweet I did on a mobile phone?

Do you agree with those analysts that say Twitter is starting to mature on its way to becoming a significant business? It wasn't as though one day we came in and said it's time to turn on the money spigot. Our plan from the beginning was to build a long-term sustainable company. We learn something new every day. Every day, the company moves forward a little bit. I don't feel as though just because we announced promoted tweets, it was a turning of a corner. It was the next step in the journey.

What's the most surprising thing to you on Twitter? It's amazing to me that President Barack Obama's press secretary is tweeting about what's happening in real time at the White House. It's not the standard voice you're using to hearing from the White House. It's an authentic human talking about what's happening. That kind of blows my mind. You have the White House press secretary talking about health care and how they were personally impressed with a message from Lance Armstrong. That kind of authenticity is unique and brings something new to the world in terms of communication.

Who do you just have to follow on Twitter? There's a couple of different categories for me. I like following my co-workers because it helps me understand if someone is having a bad day or if someone is grumpy because they were up all night with a newborn. It helps me as a manager. It gives you a glimpse into an authentic part of their life. It helps you understand them as humans.

I also follow people in my family. These are the people I've been closest with my whole life. And because Twitter is an open source of information, they share with a different voice. Another category is people I follow because I enjoy their work. There's Errol Morris , the film director; Warren Ellis , the comic book writer, and the guys behind Penny Arcade , a Web comic.

What are some of your favorite Twitter apps and platforms? I use Tweety on the iPhone. And I use Twitterrific on the iPad, which I think is an excellent tweeting device. I think you'll see an amazing evolution of apps on the iPad. It's very tactile on the iPad. The experience of browsing your timeline is like dipping your fingers in this flow of information. It feels like the future to me. I think that will be a rich area of innovation.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld . Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about web 2.0 and web apps in Computerworld's Web 2.0 and Web Apps Knowledge Center.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon