Interview: How Tweetdeck Plans To Make Money

Twitter management app Tweetdeck has ridden the wave of Twitter’s popularity to become one of the top Twitter clients, with one million downloads. The free iPhone app launched this week got more than 100,000 downloads in its first 30 hours.

But its London-based founder, Iain Dodsworth, sees the company’s business model as not just aggregating tweets in real time but also helping to aggregate the wider web. His team of five full-time employees are working on a series of features that could incorporate users’ personal data like updates from other social networks and email, and, more importantly, revenue-generating features are on the way, he says.

Like a lot of web businesses, he says the strategy is to build reach before revenue: “We have a million people on the current download, which is big enough to test things — I’m trying to find the revenue streams that are small now but have potential to scale. So if we have 10 million or 50 million people in a year or two years’ time they will be significant.”

Monetization: Tweetdeck raised $300,000 in VC funding in a round led by New York’s Betaworks in January, and Dodsworth admits “it doesn’t take much math to work out that’s not going to last a desperately long amount of time.” He’s been in talks about funding; meanwhile, he says there are “sustainable revenue streams we are already tapping, though they won’t make anyone particularly wealthy.”

So what are these revenue-generating ideas? “They are to do with placement, insertion.” He stresses that sponsored tweets won’t be added to users’ main feeds or appear in their @replies column, and says “I’d rightly get slapped around for that.” But he’s convinced there are other ways placed tweets — even “targeted” ones — can be made “palatable.”

Real-time web browsing: Dodsworth says his new catchphrase that TweetDeck is the “browser for the real-time web” is not a concept but something we’ll see in the near future. “Synchronization (of the PC and iPhone versions) is the platform service we’re able to offer, and we have a raft of other services we’re thinking about.” Dodsworth says the extra functions haven’t been decided yet (though some are in private testing), but they could include all manner of public and personal data streams. Also in production is a function that suggests followers based on users’ headings — for example, if you start a group of “cycling” followers, TweetDeck could suggest other cyclists for you to follow.

Partners in Tweet: Dodsworth says he’s had a “a lot of people” ask to have their service embedded into TweetDeck, as URL shortener and Twitpic already are, but he’s had to turn them away to avoid cluttering the app. “But to the people that are mentioning paying to be involved, we’re saying ‘OK, how much would you pay for a six-month inclusion?’” He even says that “one or two” embedded services already have commercial relationships, though he wouldn’t go into specifics.

A no-advertising zone: Though he is testing it, Dodsworth is not keen on advertising: “Personally, I hate that, it’s awful. A lot of people have said ‘just put a big banner ad at the top, you’ve got a great big gap there…’ but that’s horrible for the users… We’d end up with a user base of 10 people and you can’t monetize that.” Dodsworth’s exploring creating featured users and sponsored skin versions, as he did with the US rock band Blink 182 — it’s something he says has stirred up interest among music companies, movie studios and online marketers.