True, no one asked me. But here's my two cents anyway. Twitter should open up its platform to advertising. That's right, advertising. Forget all this hoo-ha over selling data or paid business accounts or dashboards . . . Twitter has everything it needs to build a wildly-successful ad driven business model. It should get on with it.
The two hallmarks of successful advertising-driven businesses are 1) massive scale and 2) abundant context. How has MySpace built such strong advertising revenue atop their social media platform? Huge scale and a ton of context. Same is true of Facebook and Yahoo and Six Apart. And, of course, the mother of all ad supported businesses -- Google -- is all about scale and context.
Twitter's scale has been well documented. Huge and growing. Does the fact that much of the Twitter traffic exists on third party clients make in-stream advertising less practicable? I don't think so. I think it actually solves the problem of how Twitter will be able to monetize its off-platform traffic. Third party apps can choose to present ads along with the rest of the stream or pay a fee to receive advertisement-free data.
As with each of the social media platforms listed above, Twitter's unique experience will require a unique ad format. In this instance, I think the format is pretty easy to envision. Twitter should constrain advertisements on its system to 140 characters or fewer. By doing so, Twitter ads will be pretty spartan. But if Google ads have taught us anything, it is clear that a relatively small number of characters and a link are more that sufficient to engage a consumer. Moreover, by matching the ad format to that of a tweet, the ads will not only fit well with the consumption behavior on Twitter.com, it will also work well with the many third party experiences enabled by Twitter's API. Twitter need only create some visual distinction between tweets and ads and it can very simply insert the ads in the tween stream, as can Tweet Deck and Siesmic and Tweety and StockTweets . . . .
What about context on Twitter? Huge and growing. The very data others have suggested Twitter should sell to third parties is invaluable to create the necessary context for a successful advertising model. Not only will Twitter know the things about which any given user is tweeting, it will also know who that user is following and the things about which they are tweeting. That's a huge amount of context for advertisers. I'm guessing Toyota would love to advertise to an individual who tweets about shopping for a new Honda Hybrid. And they are likely just as eager to advertise to an individual who follows numerous eco-tweeters. It is easy enough to envision a self-serve platform that allows a huge range of advertisers to bid for context and get great results.
The best thing about context-driven advertisements is that, when well-executed, they can be viewed by consumers as content, not just advertising. Look at Google's ads as case in point. It has been a long time since I've heard even a hint of objection to advertisements on Google. Why? Because the ads are often more compelling than the organic search results they appear beside. True, Twitter ads won't be a response to a query like in Google. But there should be more than enough signal for businesses to get great results advertising on the platform.
Finally, I think that users would embrace Twitter ads. We all recognize that Twitter needs a business model and we all want a long-term sustainable platform. If executed well (watch out for those lurking privacy trolls!), Twitter ads would become a natural part of the Twitter experience and add value, not take away from it. Better yet, we could all stop speculating about Twitter's business model and move on to more interesting discussions about things like the transformative impact of the real time web. So do us a favor Twitter and start serving ads already. I, for one, look forward to it.