As rumors swirl, Twitter says no rush for business model

Despite rampant speculation and angst in the blogosphere about Twitter Inc.'s lack of revenue, co-founder Biz Stone says there's no rush for the social network to come up with a business plan.

There is, he noted in an interview with Computerworld last week, plenty of money in Twitter's coffers -- so why rush?

"It's not tough for us because we have a lot of money in the bank and patient investors [and a] patient board," said Stone, adding that the company first wants to focus on growing the network, increasing its user base and adding new features to the site. "We want to focus on this before profit. If we focus on profit, then we take people away from focusing on features."

Online pundits and bloggers have been closely eyeballing Twitter and criticizing the company's lack of a business plan, doling out dire warnings about the future of the microblogging site unless it comes up with a viable strategy for making money sometime very soon.

A Wall Street Journal blog post written by Kara Swisher on Thursday is whipping up the rumor mill again.

About a week after rumors flew saying that Google Inc. was in talks to buy Twitter, Swisher's post led to reports that Google and Microsoft Corp. are sparring to grab a piece of Twitter's potential search advertising revenue.

Last week, Stone told Computerworld that Twitter has been working to upgrade its search feature. While the search link now sits at the bottom of the page, Stone wants to put it front and center, making it a prominent part of the Twitter interface.

"Our plans are to get it in front of everyone and let people really get access to it," said Stone, who noted that the upgrade is now being tested internally and should be rolled out soon. "I think it's huge. It adds a huge layer of relevancy for Twitter. Some people aren't sure what to use Twitter for and then they search and understand."

He added that the search feature won't take you to a new page when you hunt for something. Instead, it will "refocus" what you're looking at. Twitter also is looking to make it possible for people to save their searches, since many users tend to search for the same thing over and over.

"It's really about real-time search," said Stone. "I heard a noise outside my house. I searched 'Berkeley and noise' and someone had just Twittered about Radiohead playing. Once you enter the realm of real-time, you open up to all the possibilities."

And there's plenty of speculation now that one possibility involving real-time search is that a major player, like Google or Microsoft, will figure out a way to make money off of it.

But while Stone says there's no business plan in the works, he did say that Twitter executives plan to look at and try several different ideas later this year. They don't plan on announcing a major plan but they will "try stuff out and see what sticks," he said.

Twitter will likely first look at a business plan focused on commercial users, though that doesn't mean that Twitter-using companies like Starbucks or Inc. will have to start paying to use the social network.

"Twitter is always going to be free for everyone. There will be something extra. It's not going to be us saying, 'You're Starbucks, and now you must pay,'" Stone explained, adding that the company will look at "what [companies are] doing that is working for them now and how can we help them do that."

Stone said Twitter also doesn't plan to focus its efforts on creating premium features for paid users. It won't, for example, let companies pay to add logos to their Tweets, and it has no plans to run banner ads anytime soon.

"If you sell pies," he added, "how do we help you sell more pies? We're talking about ways to enhance commercial usage."

That might mean enabling companies, organizations and people to pay for account verification. He noted that if users could be sure that Tweets were actually coming from, say, the real Britney Spears or Starbucks, more people would follow them.

And he added that executives at companies like Austin-based retailer Whole Foods Market, might like to know how many of their followers are based in a certain city.

"We're growing so phenomenally," said Stone. "Investors see tons of potential."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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