At long last, Twitter starts serving up ads

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It sounds like our free ride on Twitter has ended. Here, at long last, come the ads.

The first phase of Twitter's new ad scheme, which went live this evening, will be "Promoted Tweets" in search results. These will feel pretty familiar since they'll appear similar to Sponsored Links in Google or Bing. These tweets will have "Promoted by Companyname" in small text at the bottom so you can easily identify them as Promoted Tweets and know who is promoting them. According to AdAge, there will be just one of these Promoted Tweets per search.

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Twitter HQ is trying to put a positive spin on the ads. In a New York Times article, Twitter COO Dick Costolo is quoted as saying “The idea behind Promoted Tweets is that we want to enhance the communications that companies are already having with customers on Twitter” and the Times then goes on to give an example of the value these Promoted Tweets can provide:

Starbucks, for instance, often publishes Twitter posts about its promotions, like free pastries. But the messages quickly get lost in the thousands of posts from users who happen to mention meeting at Starbucks.

“When people are searching on Starbucks, what we really want to show them is that something is happening at Starbucks right now, and Promoted Tweets will give us a chance to do that,” said Chris Bruzzo, vice president of brand, content and online at Starbucks.

So the next time Starbucks wants to give us delicious baked goods, their message won't get lost in the "noise" that is Twitter. Hmm, but eliminate the noise and what's left?

Still, Promoted Tweets in search shouldn't impact the Twitter experience very much. But phase two of the program is Promoted Tweets in your timeline. So when I tweet "@itworld Hey, let's meet at Starbucks to leech some free WiFi" in response I'll get a Promoted Tweet in my timeline saying "Stop in at Starbucks to get a free pastry!"

Yeah, that'll go over well with users. In fact, we already gets ads like this now, compliments of various Twitter spambots. We've been trained to immediately delete these Tweets and block the users. I tried Blocking @Starbucks but the Promoted Tweet on the search results still shows, and I assume the same will be true for Promoted Tweets in our timelines.

Twitter clearly needs a revenue stream; I don't mean to sound like I'm begrudging them that. But when Ev Williams told the BBC: "What we want to do is build something into the product that makes us money and makes the product better." I didn't think he meant spam in our timelines. In order for these Promoted Tweets to make the product better (for users at least) Twitter HQ is going to have to vet them very carefully. Look at the first Promoted Tweet I spotted, below. Does that make Twitter a better product for you?

Ah well, nothing can stay free forever, I suppose, and ads are a tried-and-true way to pay for a service. On the other hand...there's always Google Buzz.

The first Promoted Tweet I spotted
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