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Kai Ryssdal: Even if you don't use it, you've probably at least heard of Twitter -- where users post brief messages online, tweets, they're called, about whatever's going on in somebody's life. The site has exploded from a couple of hundred thousand users last year to more than 22 million today. People have Twitter feeds. Companies have Twitter feeds. Marketplace has a Twitter feed.
But as with a lot of other social-networking phenomena, there's been a lingering question of when Twitter is going to start actually making money. Today, may be the answer. Marketplace's Rico Gagliano looked into Twitter's new ad plan.
RICO GAGLIANO: This morning, I logged into Twitter. And in the "search" field, I typed the word "coffee." Because, you know, I was drinking some.
And the first tweet that comes up is from Starbucks. And it says, "Our coffee quality team tastes thousands of cups a year to ensure quality."
Now, Starbucks posted that tweet three days ago. Yet it still appeared at the top of the search results, which are usually chronological. This is Twitter's new ad model at work.
Aaron Kessler is an Internet analyst at Kaufman Brothers.
AARON KESSLER: It's called "promoted tweets," and that's essentially when a user searches on a specific keyword, an advertisement would show up at the top of the page.
Starbucks, Best Buy and a few other companies are now paying to have their tweets "promoted" like this on Twitter. Kessler says the strategy is fairly common on the Internet. Google does something similar. But what could be controversial is Twitter's plan for a second ad experiment later this year.
KESSLER: Advertisements within the overall Twitter feed. So even when a user doesn't search for that item, they may still see an advertisement.
He says the ads would appear based on what a user was tweeting about. Mention travel? A Virgin Airline tweet might appear in your Twitter feed. Right now to hear about Virgin deals you have to follow them. Soon they may be following you.
Kit Yarrow is a consumer psychology professor at Golden Gate University. She says some users could be turned off by the Big Brother aspect, at least at first.
KIT YARROW: And there's gonna be an adjustment period where people are feeling, initially, like they're being violated in some way.
But she points out users once felt the same way about e-mail intrusions, and just got used to deleting or ignoring them.
In Los Angeles, I'm Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.