6 Comments

Summary:

Twitter is expected to offer a photo-sharing feature soon, something that seems so obvious it should have been added a long time ago. While this will spark renewed concerns about Twitter bulldozing its ecosystem, the big question is whether it will help Twitter monetize its network.

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According to a number of reports, Twitter is close to adding a photo-sharing feature similar to that provided by third-party services such as Twitpic and Yfrog. The addition seems like a natural for the information-sharing network — so obvious, in fact, that many have wondered why Twitter didn’t add the ability a long time ago. But while the new feature will almost certainly spark renewed concerns about Twitter bulldozing its third-party ecosystem, the big question is whether image-sharing can help the company figure out how to make money.

Ever since Twitter investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures made his infamous comments about how developers shouldn’t just “fill holes” in the Twitter feature list, image-sharing has seemed like a natural service for the network to add. Twitpic was one of the first external Twitter services that really took off, with millions of people — including the guy who took a shot of the plane landing in the Hudson river — using it to share news-worthy photos. But Twitter has so far avoided adding this feature, preferring to add a URL shortener and spend its money buying clients such as Tweetdeck instead.

While adding image features seemed obvious from the beginning, Twitter likely avoided it for some time because of the strain terabytes worth of photos would have added to its network infrastructure, which was not very healthy until recently. Now that those issues seem to have been solved — with the network staying up even during major events such as the British royal wedding — it appears adding such features is on the list of things to do.

Twitter may have inadvertently chosen the perfect time to launch such a service, judging by some of the backlash Twitpic has been enduring recently. Twitpic has been widely criticized for changes to its terms of service that give it the right to license user photos to an entertainment news service, without sharing any of that revenue with the original owner. A number of users have said they plan to boycott Twitpic as a result, which gives Twitter a large window of opportunity. That and easy integration with Twitter’s various software clients should give it a pretty big runway.

But while sharing information such as photos may seem like a natural extension of the company’s mandate as a real-time information network, will it help to monetize that network? Twitter is under increasing pressure to boost its revenue and profitability after raising $200 million worth of venture financing — which values the company at almost $4 billion. Advertising via services such as Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends appears to be generating some income, but it’s not clear how much or whether it’s growing rapidly enough to justify those massive valuation numbers.

The benefits of adding image-sharing are two-fold. On one hand, the popularity of Twitpic and other image services shows many users want this feature, and therefore, it’s likely to be a powerful tool in terms of increasing user “stickiness,” which my colleague Colleen wrote about recently. Twitter has hundreds of millions of registered users, but the number of heavy users is still relatively small according to some estimates. And as Om has noted, Instagram has shown how popular simple photo sharing on a mobile device can become. If Twitter can emulate that kind of behavior, it could really stand to benefit.

The second aspect of image sharing is that it could provide more real estate within the Twitter homepage for advertising. Ever since the service redesigned its website to add a “details pane” with embedded media such as photos, videos and music links to iTunes, that pane has seemed like an ideal spot for traditional branded advertising. Those kind of ads are something Twitter has not really engaged in so far, but it seems like a fairly natural extension for a company that has become a real-time media network.

But here’s a hint for Twitter: Take a hint from Twitpic and don’t claim ownership or licensing rights over people’s photos. They don’t seem to like that too much.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Lali Masriera

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  1. I’m not sure why any developers would want to continue building anything on Twitter. If you don’t “fill the holes”, as per his recommendation, there’s not much left to do with Twitter except broadcast your content there as one of many places – which isn’t all that interesting to any developer types. Twitter has a ton of potential, but they keep making it more dangerous and less interesting for anyone who would want to integrate with them. Twitter can be more than a news feed. It could be a platform for social games, project management, useful location services as opposed to currently useless location tagged posts, realtime two-way and group chatting, and whole lot of other things I won’t mention here. The above are the basics, but Twitter has made it a tricky proposition to build anything onto or integrated with their service.

  2. Unless Twitter plans to make another M&A and buy Ulla’s Thinglink, I have zero confidence in this new “feature”.

    Thinglink gets it *SO RIGHT*, no way the people that brought you the #dickbar can match it.

    Ref.

    http://thinglink.com

  3. savvysavingbytes Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Seems to me there’s a definite need for a big scale photo-sharing service that DOESN’T sell photographer’s pictures without their permission and without sharing revenue. Because of this new policy, I have recently deserted Twitpic and Yfrog. Now using Mobypicture in the Netherlands that states it will not sell photographer’s pics without their permission.

  4. @savvysavingbytes, big scale photo sharing services already exist. Flickr comes to mind. Picasaweb comes to mind. Neither of these sell your images without asking. I think these Twitter-based image sharing services are trying to solve problems that don’t exist. Basically Flickr and Google need to step up and help developers integrate better. Problem solved.

  5. savvysavingbytes Thursday, June 2, 2011

    @mindctrl:

    Flickr is so huge. I find it too slow to get around on that site. I will look into Picasaweb though.

  6. It is really easier than you think to make money off of twitter once you know what you’re doing, I own an amazing piece of software that does all the work for me and makes me an extra $400 a month online and I’m willing to share that software with you, read about it at http://moneywithtwittenator.blogspot.com it’s really incredible

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