Will the twits pay for their tweets? Nope

No one wants to pay for Web-based and open-source software, but will we end up with less of it, if we continue to expect something for nothing?

CNET News.com Editor in Chief Dan Farber suggests a new way for Twitter to make money : Charge for the right to "tweet." Reasonable, right? If you derive value from a service, you should pay for it, right?

Maybe not. The primary problem with this idea is that people have come to expect software and associated services to be free. They don't want to pay.

In open-source software, it's exactly the same: Tons of value, but would-be customers will pay as little as possible for it, unless forced to by a proprietary license or company policy (requiring one to pay for support).

As I noted before, we often don't want the consequences of what we want . Perhaps a consequence of no viable business model for Twitter is that it goes out of business or becomes a minor service for a major Web company. That may well be the best it can expect.

It's interesting that Web companies are struggling with many of the same issues that open-source companies are: when you give your product away for free, you have to find something compelling for which people will pay money. On the Web, that's advertising, but not all Web businesses lend themselves well to ad-based services.

In open source, it's support and perhaps proprietary add-ons that bring home the revenue but, again, support and add-ons don't fit equally well across the spectrum of open-source businesses.

I'm not pining for the world of proprietary software and proprietary Web services. That's a world that hordes innovation and charges by the drip. I'd much rather have the opening world we live in now. But we need to discover better business models to fuel it.

We're not there yet. I couldn't care less if Twitter dies tomorrow because I find it largely irrelevant to my life, but I'd still like for its developers to find ways to monetize it so that those who do like it can continue to enjoy it. Along the way, perhaps they or others will discover how to make money from all this free stuff. I pray that advertising is not the answer.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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