Blog Post

Interview: Bill Gross Talks About Twitter’s Clampdown

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Bill Gross is like a ghost from the Internet’s past. In the first Internet gold rush, he started Idealab, a dot-com factory of sorts — and he also came up with the idea for paid-search advertising, which eventually turned Google into a cash gusher. Now he wants to do the same on Twitter, and has some ideas about monetizing Twitter streams through his clients. For past few months he has been on a shopping spree through his company UberMedia, and has been buying some of the more popular twitter clients such as UberTwitter and TweetDeck, which now gives him control over about twenty percent of Twitter’s traffic.

This seems to have gotten Twitter bent out of shape. This morning, the San Francisco-based micro-messaging platform yanked access from UberMedia and its many clients for what the company said were violations of various rules. Gross made changes as asked by Twitter, and now is now waiting for the company to reinstate his services. He shared his response first via a press release and then posted his answers on Quora. As he waited for service to be restored, he and I chatted briefly about his plans, Twitter’s antagonism and the risks of working on someone else’s platform. This is a highly edited version of my chat with Gross:

Om Malik: Bill can you explain what is going on and what are the exact problems. I specifically want to know about Twitter’s allegation that ”these violations include, but aren’t limited to, a privacy issue with private Direct Messages longer than 140 characters, trademark infringement, and changing the content of users’ Tweets in order to make money.”

Bill Gross: They took issue with a few things and we have complied with the changes they requested. On the issue of direct messages, it is in reference to posting longer tweets. When you use a service that allows you to post longer tweets, the tweets are posted to a website and then are broken up and sent to twitter. If you are sending public tweets, it is okay. Twitter wanted to make sure that our (TMI) service doesn’t do that for direct messages, as it didn’t want those to appear in public. We fixed this!

They had problems around names and we have changed those. The third issue they had was around an iPhone client we own which uses a URL shortener called Twitter said that we were sending Amazon affiliate links through this shortener and hijacking money. That is not true and we make no money from it.

OM: Bill, there has been a lot of talk of your company now starting its own parallel network. Care to comment on that?

BG: There has been a lot of speculation about that, but that is not our intention. We want to enhance the Twitter ecosystem as I think Twitter is an incredibly powerful platform.

OM: Aren’t you risking a lot by building your business on someone else’s platform?

BG: We understand that when you work on a platform, you are beholden to the platform creator. The trick is to innovate on the platform and make the platform better.

OM: There seems to be a tension between Twitter and your company. Perhaps because you control about 20 percent of the traffic.

BG: That twenty percent was always outside of Twitter. We have put it all together. I think what Twitter has done so well has generated traffic outside Twitter. I think we have a good relationship. And we want to enhance the Twitter ecosystem. You can argue that we are competitors, but that’s like Electronic Arts and Nintendo are competitors. Some of EA games compete with some of the games made by Nintendo for their gaming platform. We want to be a good partner to Twitter and comply with the Twitter TOS.

OM: Are you going to continue buying Twitter clients?

BG: We would be interested, but there aren’t too many big ones left. I think we are at a point where we are seeing about billion impressions on our clients. If we did nothing and Twitter traffic kept going up, we will see big enough growth. We want folks to spend more time inside our products and that is why I think there is a huge upside in Twitter usage.

OM: Bill, is there a method to the madness? I mean what is the plan here.

BG: Twitter is an incredible, most important micro-broadcasting platform. People are spending an incredible amount of time inside these clients. Think of these clients as browsers and if we can increase the amount spent inside the client, we can do incredible things. And on this platform, people tell you about themselves openly and what they want. It opens up a lot of opportunities. For example, when someone says they are craving pizza, well that is an opportunity for marketers.

OM: Isn’t that competitive to what Twitter is trying to do in terms of monetizing their twitter stream. They have been pretty clear about not allowing monetization within their stream.

BG: We are putting no ads in the stream. What we are going to try and do is perhaps do offers outside the tweet stream. For instance, if you are the Clippers (a Los Angles basketball team) we can show you offers for tickets. It will be outside the stream, perhaps on the side in a client. We are complying with Twitter’s rules.

OM: So what comes next?

BG: We are working on a whole slew of things. For instance, currently, if you send a link, you don’t really know much about what happens to that link. Some links get click throughs and you get page views. We want to take a Nielsen style approach and give you more granular metrics about what is happening to your tweets – how many people are getting them, what they are doing with them and if they are acting upon them. Just like Google Analytics, we want to offer you Twitter analytics.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

15 Responses to “Interview: Bill Gross Talks About Twitter’s Clampdown”

  1. It would be nice if über twitter had pre-informed us rather than dumping the system like this, until they satisfy @EV and the kids over at Twitter users like me on “pay-as-you-go” service are completely cut off from using multiple twitter accounts..

    No one wants to be on “pay-as-you-go” in this industry but some times you start from scratch like i did on December 27th and have no choice but to be a beggar and not a chooser when it comes to mobile device plans and usage..

    über twitter allowed me to have as many accounts as i wanted and use twitter so long as i was within reach of wi-fi which in the modern world is pretty much all of the time.

    Not being able to be forthcoming and only finding out the ‘truth’ via this article was a sincere disservice to those of us not on ‘formal contract plans’ with our carriers.

    It is simply negligent, inhuman.

    I hope that the tech biz as it matures becomes more about #Betterness and less about #Business, for that can be too saturated with greed and poor decision making.


  2. I’m curious about the claim that UberMedia controls 20% of Twitter traffic. Data source?

    The claim does not jibe with data from TwitterSource, which uses a randomly generated sample of 5% using the Twitter streaming API. Those data show UberTwitter/UberSocial with about 7% of the traffic; other UberMedia products each have considerably less than 1% traffic. UberMedia doesn not yet own TweetDeck, which holds 5% of traffic, but even with TweetDeck, the math doesn’t add up to 20%.

  3. As with the other posters to this blog, I am getting hints of parasitic activity. I appreciate and respect that fact that bills have to be paid and revenue has to be generated but there are more forthright and honest ways of doing so. The Inter-connected networks were paid for by our tax dollars and returned to us by the US Department of Defense. Let’s use them more honestly and conscientiously.

  4. Brad Farlin

    I see all kinds of infringment here of Twitter’s TOS. What Gross is trying to do is divert Twitter revenue to his company. Unfortunately I think he is about 2 years too late to do this. Now he is in a collision path with Twitter.

    My bet is he starts his own micro-blogging service and competes with Twitter.

    In other words, Twitter should cut off Uber Media now before Uber Media parasites off Twitter to create its own microblog network.