Twitter was down tonight, nothing really unusual for the San Francisco based startup (to be fair though downtime has improved since they dumped Joyent), but what was different is some reports of users spotting ads in their Twitter stream during the service difficulties. There were no ads evident when I visited Twitter, which may indicate testing only in preparation for a broad-scale rollout
Twitter has long been the poster child for the often controversial Valley mantra of build an audience first, and the business model will follow that has been copied by Seesmic and others. Founded in March 2006 and with its most recent round in July 2007 at $5.7 million, Twitter has grown to cult status among its growing user base, but hasn’t earned a cent.
Occasional ads in the Twitter timeline, in a similar fashion to what Twitteriffic users currently see (Twitteriffic runs their own ads on the free version) seems like the only real way to monetize Twitter, aside for premium subscriptions. The only question remaining is how Twitter users will accept the move after a two year free ride.