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- Thomas Jefferson, via Mike Masnick

Mar 20

How Twitter’s @anywhere might kill the advertising industry

Previous to the Evan Williams keynote at SXSW this week, there were rumors that Twitter was going to reveal a new “advertising platform” during the talk.  But after @anywhere was announced, there was universal disappointment.

That disappointment is misplaced.  Semantics aside, @anywhere encapsulates the major threat social media poses to the advertising and marketing industries as we know them.  Here’s why.

All social media (especially tweets) compete with advertising for buyers’ attention:

- Social media is increasing its share of attention, and @anywhere is aimed at accelerating this trend to the benefit of Twitter.

- Attention is a zero sum game, so there are clear winners [social media services] and losers [legacy ad platforms].

From the perspective of a buyer, the best tweets are wildly more valuable than any paid brand message could ever hope to be.  Both media have biases, but advertising has a particularly ugly form of bias.

Still, there are two things holding back the value of tweets: distribution and relevance.  @anywhere addresses both.

1. Distribution.  @anywhere distributes Twitter to any web page.  YouTube clearly demonstrated how potent this can be.

2. Relevance.  @anywhere shifts decisions about what tweets are relevant to the edge of the network.  Context is a very expensive thing (i.e. hard to figure out) and is best left decentralized.

As they become ubiquitous and relevant, tweets become more trustworthy, useful, and valuable.  Especially relative to advertisements.

So even though @anywhere is not a revenue model, it should disrupt legacy advertising platforms and business models by making them comparatively more and more useless to the market.

For extra clarity, allow me to illustrate with words from Evan and Umair Haque:

(Keep in mind that Umair is an advisor to Twitter and that he was asked by Twitter to talk with Evan on stage.)

MG Siegler’s live blog of the keynote:

Umair Haque: So it’s a platform to juice up site’s networks and virility. But it’s an “At Platform” not an “Ad Platform”.

Evan Williams: Yeah, it’s about lowering the barrier for information.

Cute and coy turns of phrase ;-)

Summarizing the talk a few days later, Umair connects the dots:

I pointed out that @anywhere isn’t (yet another) ad platform. Twitter’s trying to connect people in more meaningful ways, Ev said: better connections, better information — better choices.

…Erasing information asymmetries is where the future of advertising lies.

Yes!  @anywhere is designed to help people make better decisions by increasing their access to better information.  Those decisions might be about who to vote for, what career to pursue, whether or not to become a vegetarian…or whether or not to buy a product.

So to sum things up:

1. Twitter makes it easier to get better information, period.  That’s no good for “ad platforms”, which are purpose-built to obfuscate relevant information.

2. Similar to the way that Craigslist indirectly kills newspapers, Twitter’s @anywhere could be a powerful force for further eroding traditional advertising’s share of attention.

3. Social media is doing a much better job at allocating my attention, and attention is a zero sum game.

Unfortunately, it’s the only game in town as far as the advertising industry is concerned.

(Update: for some great counterpoints, I’d point you to Dave Winer here and Kid Mercury’s comment here).

(Note: you may ask, “how is @anywhere different than Facebook Connect?”  I’d say they’re similar, but because tweets are publicly viewable, there is much more data available.  More data yields richer context and meaning.)

(Additional thanks to Umair for explaining these economics in the first place).

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