Is This How Twitter Will Offer Friends For Sale?

Twitter has rolled out a number of new monetization models in recent weeks and a change to the search results page tonight may be the next one we’ll see. Last Friday Peter Kafka published a report on AllThingsD predicting that Twitter would soon start offering followers to customers, for a price. Now tonight, MG Siegler at TechCrunch spotted a new feature that integrates people search directly into the basic search results page on the site.

Put those two reports together and what do you have? Big clues pointing to a future cost-per-action auction of people search listings for popular topics. Check out some of these example searches below and ask yourself: is this a bidding war waiting to happen?

Update: Twitter sent a pseudo-denial of this theory to TechCrunch!

When Twitter sold a trending topic to the NBA earlier this month, there was a big spike in people tweeting about basketball and Lebron James in particular. Think particular teams would pay for a space in the top results here? How about the NBA itself buying all of them and switching out what appears?

TMZ? I wouldn’t be surprised. TMZ-challengers? Perhaps all the more likely.

Talk about direct e-commerce possibilities. If search communicates intent – won’t the sales people line up to be introduced as the face to follow regarding popular goods and services? The ROI will be easy to calculate, too.

I think people have assumed that Twitter would monetize search with ads the way Google has – by inserting links to destinations. Twitter is people though – so it makes sense to monetize connection to people and to brands. It would essentially be a way to sell subscriptions to syndicated content, including promotional materials.

It’s pretty amazing to think that this social media era may be one where monetization happens when consumers opt-in to receiving commercial communication over time.

We’ve requested comment from Twitter and will update this post if we hear from the company about our speculation.

See also our scoop of Twitter’s @earlybird promotional account (which, by the way, just said it is about to spread its wings soon) and our maybe-scoop of a maybe/maybe not forthcoming Twitter analytics service. Twitter told us there was nothing happening with that analytics news, but then days later announced something that sure looked like an admission of a forthcoming analytics product.

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