How will Twitter make money? Treat usernames like domains

 UPDATE: 3/20/2009  This from AdAge shows that there is GREAT value in my similar idea, whether or not people like it: “A proposed expansion of top-level domains means that by the end of the year there could be hundreds. Coca-Cola and Pepsi could request .soda or .softdrinks; Procter & Gamble and Unilever could sign up for .laundry or .soap. The initial cost estimated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is $185,000 for registration plus anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000 in annual fees. But if both Pepsi and Coca-Cola wanted .soda, there would be an auction, and the domain rights would go to the highest bidder. And that could get pricey quickly for brand owners. One outside consultant estimated that the total cost to business could reach $1.5 billion. And that’s to say nothing of domain squatters.”


Today, “How will Twitter make money?” is to the Internet what “Who shot JR?” was to television in 1980.

I never watched Dallas, so I can’t answer the latter question, but I’ll take a stab at the first one.

All Twitter needs to do is charge a yearly fee to register usernames, like domains — only make it so users have a shot at making money from it, so that everybody doesn’t rebel.

Every name should start out cheap, like $5 a year.  If somebody wants a name you have, then they can offer more than that.  If you sell, you get half the proceeds and Twitter collects the other half.  If you don’t want to sell it, then you get to keep it just until the year’s registration runs out.  At that point, you either have to sell it or you must pay Twitter 50% of the highest offer in order to register it again and keep it for the next year.

Of course, Twitter could make bidders escrow funds for large bids, to make sure the bidders are sincere and not just trying to run up prices against somebody. 

The fair market price would always prevail.  Of course, some names would be much more valuable than others.  So say you have the name iPhone.  If Apple wants it, then they pay you a few thousand dollars, and you get half and Twitter gets half.  It would be good PR for companies to pay a decent price.   What a name sells for could be posted, so everybody knows what “going rates” are.

If your username is your registered Trademark, then Twitter can arrange to make the name permanent to you for a fee. If the name is a generic name, like “hotdog,” then the registered user could change over time from Oscar Meyer to Yankees Stadium to Nathan’s Hotdogs.

This would make Twitter a ton of money and be fair to all users.  The early adopters get compensated, but they don’t get to squat on names that could be of more value to somebody else. 

Twitter and all social marketing networks have become marketing platforms just like Web pages became a marketing platform.  Why shouldn’t we pay for usernames just like domain names?  Makes sense to me.  Just think of how fast Twitter would grow from all the speculators rushing to grab brand names. 


16 Responses to “How will Twitter make money? Treat usernames like domains”

  1. Igor The Troll Says:

    Great idea, but Twitter will only be able to sell domains as long as it is the Hot thing. Once it becomes stail people will run away in droves.

    Twitter needs to stay viral, it needs to stay crazy, Wild West anything goes. But Twitter trying to adhere to politically correct, that is boring! FAIL

  2. Dawn Douglass Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Igor, but I’m not sure I understand you. Do you think making money is politically correct?

    Things become stale when there is no longer excitement to create something fresh. Where will the owners’ excitement be if there continues to be no return on their considerable investment of time, talent and money? Where will the incentive to keep users happy and not bored come from? Not to mention all the money it takes to keep Twitter operating.

    And where are users going to run away to in droves? If Twitter fails, it’s very unlikely that any new social media startup is going to get the millions of dollars that Twitter got. VC money is already drying up. There will no longer be an endless succession of crazy Wild West shows to run to.

  3. Ann Mobile Says:

    Interesting idea!

  4. meganmaguire Says:

    Creative idea but transferring names would cause mass confusion within communities. Your username = your twitter identity. Only the most well known users would be able to go from name to name without losing (hard earned) identity/status online.

  5. Dawn Douglass Says:

    Megan, the vast majority of existing usernames have no marketing value to anybody but the one who already has it, so few would be transferred. The brand names and generic product names like “wine” and “shoes” would be the ones that see the action.

    Of course, if I had the name “Dawn” and somebody else wanted it, I’d ultimately have to decide how much I care about keeping that name. If I decided to let it pass to somebody else, then my friends and followers would still be set to following me under my new name. It will still be my icon.

    Lots of people on FriendFeed change their username from day to day, just for fun. While it may cause a bit of confusion sometimes, I don’t think anybody is hurt by it.

    “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” 🙂

  6. Kevin Says:

    Wow – this is actually a very horrible idea. Also, have you actually owned a domain name? Cause it’s nothing like this.

    So let’s say you have the twitter id “dawn”, you’re an early adopter – whatever. Procter & Gamble comes along and says “Hey, we want that.” – they offer you lets say a couple thousand dollars. Even if you say no (for whatever reason) you are now obligated to pay at least $1000 (50%) in order to keep it. This would kill twitter. Very quickly. People would leave out of disgust rather than put up with it.

  7. Dawn Douglass Says:

    I own several domain names, Kevin. And I made $23,000 selling just two of them.

    So people are going to leave Twitter in disgust because somebody wanted to give them $2,000? Okay. But I think most people would be willing to change their name. As I stated above, some people on FriendFeed change their name daily. Whether I’m “dawn” or “dawn10” or “dawnkey” what difference does it make to me or any of my friends? I know who I am and so do they.

    But if my ego dictates that I have to be the one and only “dawn” in the world, then yeah, I can choose to pay the $1,000 or take the $2,000 and leave Twitter in a “disgusted” huff.

  8. Kevin Says:

    But if you choose not to sell those domain names you would not have had to pay $11,500 to keep them. Just the standard $7.99 (or whatever your registrar charged). Oh, and if you decide you don’t like Domain Name Reseller XYZ you can move your domain name to another at any time.

    Twitter has already set a level of expectation that (barring odd trademark cases I guess) if you sign up for a twitter id it’s yours. Adding a fee to use the service is one thing, and quite acceptable. It’s a very different thing to be exposed to the possibility of bidding wars, and other similar crap, just to use the service.

    Could you imagine the hell this would cause for corp twitters? Say you’re MSFT, obviously average joe bob can’t put a serious bid on that name, but what’s to stop say the EFF or FSF from putting a $500,000 on “microsoft”, or worse “office2007” or something like. You (as MSFT) have to either appeal to twitter, take it to court, or pay up to keep it.

    Bottom line – this idea while “interesting” obviously hasn’t been thought through.

  9. Dawn Douglass Says:

    Kevin, I have thought this through. If you read closely above, I said: “If your username is your registered Trademark, then Twitter can arrange to make the name permanent to you for a fee.”

    So microsoft could buy up all their trademarked names from all those who hold the registrations and then pay an additional “reasonable amount” directly to Twitter in order to permanently keep them. Of course, a lot of factors would have to go into determining what that amount would be. It would be different for different companies, depending on their size, how much they actually use Twitters, and so on. It would probably a negotiated amount paid yearly.

    Hey, I’ve never said this is a perfect idea, but I like that it gives something back to the users. Social media is only valuable because of its users. Why shouldn’t Twitter members be included in the monetization plans somehow? It would be giving back to the early adopter community that made them successful.

  10. rosevibe Says:

    I actually like this idea – but then i thought of something similar a while back..

    I like the thought of being able to sell your twitter ID – if Vics or Vicky went on ebay I’d make a bid or 2. I don’t like the thought of having to pay to retain the id I already have though, rosevibe is my online identity and has been for years, if I was suddenly told i needed to pay to keep it i’d just leave the site, i can still follow most of my friends tweets on facebook and can respond there

    ..or I’d decamp to plurk and be done with it, their conversation threading is better anyhow.

  11. Dawn Douglass Says:

    Yeah, Twitter doesn’t seem to care about making conversations easy to follow. I think that’s a big mistake. I’m not the first person who gave up on the service because of it.

  12. TYRONE Says:

    I can read about this stuff all day long, thanks for the write up my friend!

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