I'd Pay For Twitter, But Only if It Stayed Free for Everyone Else

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Ok, I'll say it: I'd pay for Twitter, but only if it was free for everyone else. Let me explain.

In my line of work, it's by far the most useful social tool for delivering me interesting and relevant information. I hear similar things from other journalists and tech-lovers. Yet a USC Annenberg School of Communication survey released yesterday found that 0 percent of respondents said they'd pay for Twitter [pdf]. The obvious interpretation of the study is that people, even Twitter users, don't see a lot of value in the service.

But I don't think that's quite it. It's not that Twitter is worthless, but rather that in trying to charge for its value, you lose it. (The Twitter Uncertainty Principle?) A paywalled Twitter would destroy the healthy information ecosystem that's grown up around it. Users realize that Twitter has to be free to be Twitter, so of course they won't say they'd pay for it. The sum is worth a lot, but if and only if it's the sum.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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