Twitter's secret nest egg

With all the chirping about Twitter’s ability or inability to generate sufficient revenue via advertising it's important to consider the revenue potential of syndication.

With all the chirping about Twitter’s ability or inability to generate sufficient revenue via advertising income, it is important to consider an alternative revenue potential even more significant: syndicating its content.

Twitter’s own Terms of Service make it perfectly clear who has unlimited distribution rights to the content you post. Them.

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

Yes, Twitter also claims your content is yours (for obvious liability reasons), and that you can “reproduce, modify, create derivative works, distribute, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, or otherwise use the Content.”  But “you have to use the Twitter API” to do so, and Twitter’s increasingly restrictive revisions of its API, have ruffled developers’ feathers by severely crippling applications that repurpose Twitter content, even putting some out of businesses.  

As to content, the API only provides access to a collection of relevant Tweets” (i.e. subset of only those indexed) for the past several day’s tweets, and only for specified search parameters.

Therefore, you only can get broad-spectrum, longitudinal access to tweets, let alone historical ones, on a wing and a prayer. Or by special arrangement. Twitter’s big data is severely restricted to those without a special firehose access licensing and reseller agreement that only very few partners have (e.g. Gnip and DataSift).  And Twitter has shown a propensity to flip the bird to enterprising developers by clamping-down on API functionality.

The point is that at any moment Twitter could migrate its strategy to become the sole syndicator of historical Twitter content and Twitter firehose access. While this may not seem consistent with Twitter’s culture, remember it’s now a public company beholden to its NYSE:TWTR flock, not the good people of the interwebs.

The value of Twitter’s content to understand and leverage trends and sentiment about markets, products and companies is greater than the value of any twadvertisement. Use cases for customer support, product development, marketing and sales, corporate strategy and development, etc. render Twitter content invaluable to nearly any organization in any industry and geography.

Therefore, syndicating its content is likely to be the primary way Twitter ultimately soars to greater heights. Just as likely, Twitter will create a fee-based API or application for self-service analytics.

As we watch how Twitter and other social media companies hatch new ideas for monetising their content, let this be a lesson about the potential of collecting, packaging and marketing your company’s increasing storehouse of information assets.  We are just at the dawn of infonomics and monetising enterprise data. The early birds will catch the worm, so get cracking.

Doug Laney is a research vice president for Gartner Research. You can follow him on Twitter @Doug_Laney