Twitter is the talk of the Fortune Brainstorm conference. Everyone agrees it's a hot, powerful, popular new tool. But there's zero consensus about its profit potential.
I had a chance to catch up with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone at the event before his keynote interview. Stone knows what question is top of mind -- how will Twitter make money?
It seems particularly pressing at this kind of event, populated by venture capitalists and media and tech giants from AT&T and Disney to Interactive Corp and HP, all looking to grow the bottom line.
Stone said the company is working on some revenue models which it plans to launch "soon" with real revenue expected by the end of the year.
The company's first strategy won't be advertising, as some have speculated, but its business services.
Hundreds of companies are already using Twitter to track consumer sentiment.
The company would mine and translate those analytics for companies, for a fee.
Stone said that Best Buy is a good example of a company already doing a good job of this, and added that some companies have already expressed interest in packaged best practices and tools for analysing real time data, so this seems like a good place for the company to start.
Yesterday, Idealab's Bill Gross told me he thinks there's plenty of money to be made from Twitter's model -- by him! Idealab, which founds and incubates companies, is working on a couple of startups, still under the radar, which build on top of Twitter's model. Is Twitter allowing other companies to cash in on its potential? Stone says he doesn't mind. He likes the fact that it grows the Twitter ecosystem.
On a political note, I was chatting with Howard Dean, former DNC chairman, yesterday, and he also couldn't help but weigh in on Twitter.
Dean said that Facebook transformed the last presidential election and now Twitter is the big game-changer in politics. But Dean was specific: Twitter, he said, is particularly important in the east, Iran and China, where websites can be censored and shuttered. (Shutting down Twitter would entail shutting down cell phone service.)
Yet in the states, Dean doesn't see much potential for Twitter. He is confident there will be another politically transformative technology, he just doesn't know what it is yet.
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