Twitter's new plan to start offering business access to at least the past two years of tweet data reads like an attempt to start generating some revenue for the company. But it's also an innovative take on what websites can charge for. In the case of the so-called "public social network," it's millions and millions of characters -- letters, numbers, emoticons, etc. -- that, when organized can spell out major global trends.
It's worth pointing out that Twitter and Datasift's plan this isn't really a new service. Based on the BBC's report about the new model, the U.K.-based startup Datasift will handle the heavy lifting (read: customer service) for Twitter, offering up market research sourced to tweet data for $1,000 a month. Once the business signs up for the service, they get access to a simple dashboard that shows them the trends. "No-one's ever done this before," Datasift's marketing manager Tim Barker told the BBC. "It's a brand new service that we're bringing online - it's a massive technology challenge because of the amount of data that is pumped out every single day."
What Barker says isn't entirely true. Practically since Twitter Year One (2007, A.D.), the company has offered access to its data for a fee. Numbers are hard to pin down, but it's expensive. While smaller startups Sulia tended to get access to the tweet data for a few thousand bucks a month, Google apparently paid Twitter millions of dollars in order to index tweets for its real-time search experiment that was announced in 2009 and expired last summer. Furthermore, a limited amount of tweet data is open to everyone through the company's application programming interface (API), and many a service has been built based on mining tweets for data trends. One of the better known ones is the social media reputation index Klout, though it's unclear if they pay for the data or not. There's also at least one hedge fund that has tried to predict stock market trends based on tweets.
How Twitter and Datasift's new plan affect your own Twitter feed? Probably not at all. But if you thought Facebook was creepy for selling your consumer data and serving up Sponsored Tweets, this new plan to sell businesses access to your tweets might rub you the wrong way. Gus Hosein, the executive director of Privacy International, told the BBC, "People have historically used Twitter to communicate with friends and networks in the belief that their tweets will quickly disappear into the ether. The fact that two years' worth of tweets can now be mined for information and the resulting 'insights' sold to businesses is a radical shift in the wrong direction." Our advice: Start locking your tweets now.