Indecency in Common Areas (or how Twitter advertising schemes will get you canned)

The National Mall in DC is a fantastic place for everyone. It is often bustling with tourists from around the United States and around the world. The draw of taxpayer-supported Smithsonian museums, wide open space for people to walk, or eat, or socialize and beautiful scenery of the center of American government keeps the area bustling all the time.

The National Mall, much like the Roman forum where people came to freely exchange ideas and thoughts without pretense, is a public space that is open to anyone doing just about anything. However, there are certain things that are certainly not welcome on the mall. Without a license, you’re generally not allowed to sell things. You’re not allowed to, without license, setup your own sound system and hold a concert of some sort. You’re not allowed to have sex, or perform other activity considered “indecent”.

Twitter is that forum, that National Mall. It is a beautiful thing that allows for the free exchange of ideas and views. People converse and challenge each other. They unite behind causes, events and people. It’s great. However, recently, several “indecent” examples have cropped up. Specifically, with monetization of Twitter. Monetization of Twitter, depending on how it’s done, is polluting the common area. It is an obscene money grab, and I’m tired of it.

For instance, there is Magpie that will automatically insert a tweet into your tweet stream every 5 messages. The only disclosure is a #magpie hashtag. Josh Catone calls it a “terrible idea” saying:

You could find yourself shilling for something you’d rather not be. Unlike Google AdSense or other forms of display advertising, tweets that go out to your followers coming with your name attached and your implicit endorsement.

Right, no.

Twittad is less intrusive, and has less potential of affecting the Twitter community. With this model, advertisers “buy the background” of a Twitter users page. The only time it is offensive is if I am visiting a Twitter page that has such an ad.

Chitika has jumped on board by extending their advertising options to Twitter as well. In an email sent out this morning to their publishers, the company suggests its publisher tweet their referral link and provides the copy to do so:

If you are on Twitter, you can easily tweet your Chitika referral link to earn some extra revenue. For any user who signs up via this link, we will pay you 10% of their total earnings for a full 15 months. (Don’t worry – this money doesn’t get taken out of their checks. We pay this as a bonus to you!)

Post to Twitter: I’m earning good revenue from Chitika – you can check them out here: [link removed]

Very invasive. According to Chitika.com, the advertiser boasts 34,000 websites. If each one of those website owners tweeted their referral link, that is 34,000 tweets. By my best guess, that is an entire week of tweets that come across my tweetstream. Uh, no.

There is at least one other company that is getting ready to launch an advertising for Twitter option. In fairness to them, and because I don’t know what it’s going to look like yet, I won’t out them. However, I think it’s important to note that there will be more of these is Twitter users naively buy into the “easy money” routine. There is no such thing as easy money, and you will ruin your reputation if you engage in cheap money grabs on Twitter. I, for one, will immediately unfollow anyone engaging and I’m sure I will not be the only one.

Tread carefully.

Update: It’s been brought to my attention that the #magpie hashtag is no longer required, making it an even sleazier and subversive service.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

12 thoughts on “Indecency in Common Areas (or how Twitter advertising schemes will get you canned)

  1. Aaron, couple of things:

    1) I agree with you that its bad to have advertising without it being labeled (so magpie removing the #magpie tag is pure evil — they are going to get nailed to the cross for that — either by you — or the FTC)
    2) I really dont see the invasiveness of saying that you use a service or endorsing a product. If Robert Scoble makes a comment about Seagate (which he actively promotes), is that evil ? I am an active user of Amazon EC2 .. If I claim on twitter how it rocks, would that be considered evil ?

  2. Alden-

    People know what’s going on with Scoble/Seagate. There’s an inherent disclosure there. Something like Chitika’s referral link does not indicate any kind of inherent disclosure. From my perspective, the ethical thing to do when promoting referral links is to note that it’s an affiiate link. I use (aff) after affiliate links here to note that and I learned that from Darren Rowse, one of your larger publishers for Chitika. It’s good form.

    If people want to tweet a referral/affiliate link, that affiliate designation should, at best, be required and at worst be encouraged.

  3. Like the PayPerPost craze, we will see some correction by users, by the company and yes perhaps Twitter itself. I wonder how we are going to see this evolve? I have a take on it on my own blog and tried to get the discussion going in my radio show last night. I think what you are going to see is the vultures, or in this case magpies, push twitter into a service where for a premium you can get a blockage of all advertising on Twitter. Then let the free users deal with the likes of those that want to pollute the Twitter stream. Twitter is probably licking their chops over it. Or as i indicate in my post, perhaps they let a magpie get people used to the idea of Twitter stream ads and then move forward with their own rollout not getting any of the bad press, but benefiting from all of this great feedback and R&D.

  4. Its a shame that everything cool and useful eventually has to become fat and bloated, but one of the things we all can do is exactly what you say, immediately quit following anyone using these tactics.

  5. Nice post about twitter advertising “schemes” and I’m sure by middle of 09 there will be a few dozen more as twitter becomes more main stream.

    Personally I’ll be glad when twitter comes out with a plan to how they’re going to make money and possible shut down or prevent some of these other services such as magpie

  6. I will also unfollow anyone doing magpie, OMG not IDing it as an ad, that is totally sleazy. I will not pay a premium to keep crap out of my stream. That’s a poor business model. The good posters will leave, and only the spammers will haunt twitter to fire their crap at each other until it is useless. I used to frequent a forum that got taken over by spammers. That forum owner is deluding himself. The signal to noise ratio there is just unacceptable. If someone wants to put an ad on their profile, I’m OK with that.

  7. This reminds me of the same sort of backlash that Google got when they starting putting ads on their search engine. People were like: “OMG, Google is evil now”

    The fact of the matter is: Advertising is good — when done right. Is anybody complaining about ads on Google right now ?

    From what I read in the comments, it looks like people are against the sleazy tactics adopted by the likes of magpie. I hope that is what you meant.

    If you are against advertising in general on Twitter, please can you raise your hand ? (cause that really raises a bigger issue)

  8. Interesting stuff… what I’m curious about is if/when/how Twitter themselves will start monetising the service. Is it a fair bet to assume it will be advertising based if or when they do?

  9. I don’t mind hearing about services offered, when the tweets are from the person directly connected with the company or service; I have learned so much from some of those messages. If they get too intrusive because of frequency of pure advertising, I may unfollow though. There has to be a better way to make money than to allow someone to insert messages into your tweets, though, not anything I am interested in doing.

  10. I don’t think that allowing users to remove the #magpie hashtag was a smart idea, but I’m not entirely against their concept.

    For me, it’s just the same as implementing ads in a blog or on a website. Some people make them very obnoxious, taking up a large amount of space inside the content area, or they use those pop-up windows on highlighted keywords, which are really annoying. That being said, if those ads become too annoying to bare, I’ll stop visiting and reading. The same can be said of Twitter users and #magpie. If your followers find it to be annoying, they’ll stop following what you’re saying (unless you are very valuable, which in that case maybe they’ll use a Grease Monkey script like Scarecrow).

    As for #magpie sending tweets without you knowing what they are, I was impressed to see them roll out a pre-approval process for tweets. Now, before they send any tweet through your account, they will email it to you to get your approval. If you don’t approve, they won’t send it.

    I think we’ve only just begun to see the impact of advertising and monetization strategies on Twitter, and there will be more to come over time.

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