But it’s too soon to dismiss the microblogging services’ potential as businesses. Although all offer free registration, they could charge their customers and communications companies for premium functions. Pownce already charges its users for the ability to send large files. Perhaps the wireless carriers might pay the services to act as application providers for their customers; when mobile-telephone users bought a plan, they could select Jaiku as an option. Another possible source of income could be advertising that is pertinent to a particular user; advertisers and the media buyers at advertising agencies, for all their disenchantment with print publications and broadcast media, will still spend good money for the type of effective, targeted advertising offered by Google AdWords and AdSense. Finally, the services could be used for direct marketing. Already, a few companies (including Twitter itself) are using microblogs to directly market themselves; since users don’t receive promotional posts unless they’ve chosen to receive them from the corporations they follow, the blasts are presumably welcomed.
My own experiments posting semiregularly on Twitter and Pownce produced mixed emotions. I quickly realized that decrying the banality of microblogs missed their very point. As Evan Williams puts it, “It’s understandable that you should look at someone’s twitter that you don’t know and wonder why it should be interesting.” But the only people who might be interested in my microblogs–apart from 15 obsessive Pontin followers on Twitter–were precisely those who would be entertained and comforted by their triviality: my family and close friends. For my part, I found that the ease with which I could communicate with those I love encouraged a blithe chattiness that particularly alarmed my aged parents. They hadn’t heard so much from me in years.
On the other hand, I strongly disliked the radical self-exposure of Twitter. I wasn’t sure it was good for my intimates to know so much about my smallest thoughts or movements, or healthy for me to tell them. A little secretiveness is a necessary lubricant in our social relations.
Jason Pontin is the editor in chief of Technology Review.