Twitter: Build a Revenue Stream on Dunbar’s Number

The problem with many of the suggestions on how Twitter should charge1,2,3 is they put the emphasis on the wrong problem. The problem isn’t on the publication side (number of ‘tweets’ written by any individual), it’s on the distribution side (delivering the ‘tweets’ to their ‘followers’).

A simple equation to understand this ‘spew’ problem.

Message x Number of Followers = Total Number of Messages Sent

As of this writing I have 521 followers, so everytime I hit ‘update’ I’m sending 521 messages. and I’m no Scoble (>26,000 followers as of this writing). 26,000+ messages with each update.

The same math applies to email4 – why it’s a bad idea to send large attachments to a large number of people – but, due to the distributed nature of email, it’s less of an issue.

Unlike email, the message senders aren’t the ones specifying recipients. The recipients are initiating the relationship.

Scoble isn’t to blame. If anyone is, it’s each of the 26,000+ people that have explicitly clicked ‘follow’ on Scoble’s profile.

I’m a big fan of charging at the point of value, and the point of value here is real-time updates from Scoble.

Amie Street determines the price of a song by it’s popularity. Get in early – it’s free, be the last to hear it and pay $0.98.

It’d be interesting to implement the same model on Twitter.

Since Twitter is about personal connections, I’ll propose tiering the price on multiples of Dunbar’s Number. $1/150 followers, starting at #151.

Here’s how that breaks down:

  1. Greg Swan; 838 followers, $5.59 to be the next follower
  2. Chris Brogan; 9,104 followers, $60.70 to be the next follower
  3. Dave Winer; 10,282 followers, $68.55 to be the next follower
  4. Scoble; 26,842 followers, $178.95 to be the next follower

Me? I’m a bargain at $3.48. 😉

Three things I find very interesting about this idea:

  1. it turns following into a market – which at these volumes is what it is – more on that here.
  2. it might result in getting more of these kind of Twitter accounts and fewer of these
  3. Like all cool things about Twitter, they don’t need to build this for it to exist.


“Well I’ve got [a solid business model for Twitter], and it’s quite simple. Allow accounts to charge to be followed. A one time fee, or a subscription. Twitter takes a cut, say 30% like the Apple app store. ” – Jim Gilliam

1. “In Twitter’s Scoble Problem”, a Business Model by Om Malik
2. Possible Twitter Business Model: Charge Leets, Not Tweets!
– Bex Huff

3. “A business model for Twitter: Pay up” – Dan Farber
4. This is probably why Twitter won’t be supporting payloads anytime soon.

6 thoughts on “Twitter: Build a Revenue Stream on Dunbar’s Number

  1. I like some of the other ideas that come out of this, namely:

    The assumption that you’re following friends, not organizations, companies, machines, bots, etc. I hope I get to pick who my 150 first people are, as I don’t want to have them pay to hear me blather.

    What you propose would change the whole Twitter dynamic. I’m not opposed to it personally but I think it’d ruin it for anyone using it for promoting things or themselves… which I wouldn’t mind, actually. I don’t think it’d fly though. It’s a very interesting way to look at this though, thanks.

  2. There are some Tweets I might pay to follow. Maybe some others should pay me for following. I have no idea how this will end up. I’d hate to see Twitter go away, though.

  3. I LOVE DUNBAR’S NUMBER! I use it with clients quite often.

    To Aaron’s point, it certainly would change the dynamic…especially with picky/bitchy followers don’t always like everything people tweet or how they operate on Twitter (like Aaron, actually). 🙂

    Me, I would pay Twitter $5/follower myself if it meant they provided an adequate service.

  4. you got a problem: FriendFeed.

    Why would I pay money to follow somebody on Twitter? That would just make me follow him on FriendFeed, or another Twitter aggregating system?

    Perhaps you could change people who have lots of followers…

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