Interview: Bill Gross Talks About Twitter’s Clampdown

Bill Gross is like a ghost from the Internet’s past. In the first Internet gold rush, he started Idealab, a dot-com factory of sorts — and he also came up with the idea for paid-search advertising, which eventually turned Google into a cash gusher. Now he wants to do the same on Twitter, and has some ideas about monetizing Twitter streams through his clients. For past few months he has been on a shopping spree through his company UberMedia, and has been buying some of the more popular twitter clients such as UberTwitter and TweetDeck, which now gives him control over about twenty percent of Twitter’s traffic.

This seems to have gotten Twitter bent out of shape. This morning, the San Francisco-based micro-messaging platform yanked access from UberMedia and its many clients for what the company said were violations of various rules. Gross made changes as asked by Twitter, and now is now waiting for the company to reinstate his services. He shared his response first via a press release and then posted his answers on Quora. As he waited for service to be restored, he and I chatted briefly about his plans, Twitter’s antagonism and the risks of working on someone else’s platform. This is a highly edited version of my chat with Gross:

Om Malik: Bill can you explain what is going on and what are the exact problems. I specifically want to know about Twitter’s allegation that ”these violations include, but aren’t limited to, a privacy issue with private Direct Messages longer than 140 characters, trademark infringement, and changing the content of users’ Tweets in order to make money.”

Bill Gross: They took issue with a few things and we have complied with the changes they requested. On the issue of direct messages, it is in reference to posting longer tweets. When you use a service that allows you to post longer tweets, the tweets are posted to a website and then are broken up and sent to twitter. If you are sending public tweets, it is okay. Twitter wanted to make sure that our (TMI) service doesn’t do that for direct messages, as it didn’t want those to appear in public. We fixed this!

They had problems around names and we have changed those. The third issue they had was around an iPhone client we own which uses a URL shortener called Twitter said that we were sending Amazon affiliate links through this shortener and hijacking money. That is not true and we make no money from it.

OM: Bill, there has been a lot of talk of your company now starting its own parallel network. Care to comment on that?

BG: There has been a lot of speculation about that, but that is not our intention. We want to enhance the Twitter ecosystem as I think Twitter is an incredibly powerful platform.

OM: Aren’t you risking a lot by building your business on someone else’s platform?

BG: We understand that when you work on a platform, you are beholden to the platform creator. The trick is to innovate on the platform and make the platform better.

OM: There seems to be a tension between Twitter and your company. Perhaps because you control about 20 percent of the traffic.

BG: That twenty percent was always outside of Twitter. We have put it all together. I think what Twitter has done so well has generated traffic outside Twitter. I think we have a good relationship. And we want to enhance the Twitter ecosystem. You can argue that we are competitors, but that’s like Electronic Arts and Nintendo are competitors. Some of EA games compete with some of the games made by Nintendo for their gaming platform. We want to be a good partner to Twitter and comply with the Twitter TOS.

OM: Are you going to continue buying Twitter clients?

BG: We would be interested, but there aren’t too many big ones left. I think we are at a point where we are seeing about billion impressions on our clients. If we did nothing and Twitter traffic kept going up, we will see big enough growth. We want folks to spend more time inside our products and that is why I think there is a huge upside in Twitter usage.

OM: Bill, is there a method to the madness? I mean what is the plan here.

BG: Twitter is an incredible, most important micro-broadcasting platform. People are spending an incredible amount of time inside these clients. Think of these clients as browsers and if we can increase the amount spent inside the client, we can do incredible things. And on this platform, people tell you about themselves openly and what they want. It opens up a lot of opportunities. For example, when someone says they are craving pizza, well that is an opportunity for marketers.

OM: Isn’t that competitive to what Twitter is trying to do in terms of monetizing their twitter stream. They have been pretty clear about not allowing monetization within their stream.

BG: We are putting no ads in the stream. What we are going to try and do is perhaps do offers outside the tweet stream. For instance, if you are the Clippers (a Los Angles basketball team) we can show you offers for tickets. It will be outside the stream, perhaps on the side in a client. We are complying with Twitter’s rules.

OM: So what comes next?

BG: We are working on a whole slew of things. For instance, currently, if you send a link, you don’t really know much about what happens to that link. Some links get click throughs and you get page views. We want to take a Nielsen style approach and give you more granular metrics about what is happening to your tweets – how many people are getting them, what they are doing with them and if they are acting upon them. Just like Google Analytics, we want to offer you Twitter analytics.

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