Twitter datapoint of the day

By Felix Salmon
November 17, 2010

I work for a global information company which makes billions of dollars a year selling valuable data to banks, hedge funds, and other people in the financial markets, often at very high prices: $2,000 a month or even more.

And then there’s Twitter, which jealously guards access to its full stream of tweets (roughly 1,000 per second, these days). As of now, however, it’s signed a deal with Gnip whereby you can get a randomly-selected 50% of those tweets for $360,000 a year, which works out at $30,000 a month. You’re not allowed to republish them, but that’s OK—the people willing to spend that kind of money are likely to be high-frequency trading shops who want to keep the data as private as possible in any case.

I don’t have a problem with Twitter monetizing my public tweets in this manner; as I understand it, DMs aren’t included, and neither are any tweets from protected accounts. But it’s quite astonishing how much those tweets are worth, when they’re aggregated into a fat pipe. And it’s also interesting to me how much more 50% of the full stream is worth than 5%, which you can get for just $5,000 a month. Given the rapidly-diminishing marginal returns of each additional Twitter stream, I wonder where the added value comes from. I’d imagine that if a topic starts trending on the 50% feed, it will almost certainly be trending on the 5% feed as well.

I do, on the other hand, have a problem with other sites—Facebook in particular—monetizing my private information. I worried that Mint might be doing that kind of thing back in March, and in general if any website wants to sell any information of mine which isn’t public, I want them to ask my permission first. As Twitter shows, aggregated user data can be very valuable indeed. And with that kind of money on the table, there’s a lot of incentive to be ethically flexible.

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