Maybe It’s Time For Twitter To Go “Freemium”

May 11, 2008

Twitter is now known for going down without warning, leaving Twitter-addicts moaning that they feel disconnected and the world is coming to an end.

But the complaining brings up an issue that bugs me – it’s modus operandi for new web services to be free, initially. Free drives early user adoption, which is great.

I just wonder if this wealth of free stuff is creating digital cheapskates. Many users now expect things to be free and as soon as they have to pay for stuff, they jump to another free competitor. As a result, creating a sticky service that gets critical mass is very difficult with all the free options out there, and designing something that’s so sticky people will pay for it is another matter altogether.

One answer is the “freemium” model. You suck users in with the free stuff, but then slap on a paid option for more features. Flickr does it.

So here’s a friendly suggestion: if Twitter is so necessary to your communications and state of mind that you would break out in a cold sweat if it went down, volunteer your wallet for a monthly fee. Let Twitter to go “freemium.”

Twitter would then have a revenue stream and enough cash to hire some talented developers and invest in scaling and reliability. Or, at the very least, they would have much more incentive to keep the service running after everyone handed them their personal cash.

Otherwise, if you’re not wiling to pay for Twitter, I’m less sympathetic to expectations of 24/7 service. You get what you pay for, and I don’t think Twitter is a charity. There are any number of services that we pay for on a monthly basis (electricity, water, cell phone, cable, Internet), and nobody expects them to be free. And they still go down from time to time.


  1. David Risley says:

    These debates make Twitter sound like blogger crack.

  2. webomatica says:

    There really should be an opportunity to make money there. Business
    models based on addictive substances do wildly well (cigarettes,
    liquor, Starbucks). And if folks are really as addicted to Twitter as
    they claim, surely they'd be willing to pony up a few bucks a month
    which is less than a daily cup of joe.

  3. Mark says:

    Sounds like Pownce

  4. Shawn Farner says:

    Agreed. I feel that I don't really have the right to complain about something if it's free. I think Twitter has a ways to go, though, before they can start charging. They need more features.

  5. webomatica says:

    I'd like to find an update on how the freemium business model is working for Pownce.

  6. felix says:

    I agree completely. I think it's a great model – if they added on some additional features available to paying folk as opposed to hobbling it for non-paying. I would probably be ok with an add flowing into my stream every now and again if it behaved like a regular tweet and rolled down the timeline.

  7. thattalldude says:

    I have ZERO problems paying Twitter some of my hard earned money. Some of my hard earned money has come because of inspirations gotten from Tweeting with people. It is that useful to me, it is a MUST USE service.

  8. Corvida says:

    I have a problem with that. Don't pull a bait-switch move on me! I don't mind paying for Twitter, but they've gone too long with it being free.

  9. Phil Nash says:

    I do find it funny that people complain so long and hard about Twitter's downtime when it is actually up 98.72% of he time. It's only been out for 37 hours in 4 months and while it is more than other services, it is good for free!

    As you say though, maybe the free model of the internet does start to spoil things. I have free broadband at home that comes with a telephone plan that I buy. The internet connection is fine, however, if like some people I have problems with it, my provider has less to worry about since I'll be getting what I paid for (ie nothing). Yes, on the internet we want everything, we want it to run perfectly and we don't want to pay for it, but sometimes there has to be a compromise and in Twitter's case at the moment it is that it doesn't run perfectly. I can live with that. I'm not sure I'd be so happy if there was a stage when you start to pay for Twitter in order to improve it, but you don't get that immediate benefit. Then you are compromising on two factors.

    I hope Twitter can sort something out for a decent revenue stream soon and I think you are probably right in guessing that freemium will be the model, but in the meantime I wish people would stop complaining about the minute percentage of downtime Twitter has achieved when it is a free service.

  10. webomatica says:

    I would imagine they would keep the free service but add a second paid tier. Paying a monthly fee could allow for more features or even removing ads that are displayed to free users.

  11. webomatica says:

    Yeah the expectation of free is so prevalent on the 'net. I'm as guilty of that as the next person. Meanwhile I am trying to think of real world businesses that give their product away for free and I can't think of any – save a few free food samples at Costco. Ad supported is the next best thing, like TV channels (but most people pay for cable) and even print magazines and newspapers with tons of ads, you still have to pay for.

    If Twitter doesn't go freemium, the other option is probably advertising, or just getting bought by a much larger company with more resources to allow them to continue being free (Google / YouTube) while they figure out an advertising strategy.

  12. Mike says:

    Twitter closes the site down with a 404 or a “things are broken” message more often than the servers can't connect – those numbers are probably wrong, if they're just sending a ping to

  13. Mike says:

    If those numbers ever show up, they'd be interesting, yes…but I doubt Pownce has enough users to make the data really worth sifting through.

    Do you know anyone who uses Pownce? I don't.

  14. Mike says:

    If you've got rudimentary theming skills, it's incredibly easy to build something almost like Twitter with WordPress. I don't think Twitter adds much in the way of “unique stuff” that enough people would upgrade.

    No doubt, though, that Twitter costs a crapload of money – who's funding this? What do they expect to get out of it? It just seems so unrealistic to expect that giving away a service will equate to revenue – no wonder there's talk of a bubble.

  15. Work Post says:

    Start out offering free services + keep those services free. As a site or service develops, add useful but non-essential paid or subscription services that complement the free services. Twitter could go in so many different directions, it's going to be tough for them to decide what to do next.

  16. webomatica says:

    No, I know nobody that uses Pownce, but that may partly be because I don't myself use it :)