All good celebrity news writers follow Britney Spears on Twitter... so I saw a tweet on her account earlier today with a link to a photo on Twitpic. After clicking through, glancing at the Britney Spears pic and balking at some of the more mind-numbing
ass-kissing comments below, I noticed a big list of tags submitted to the photo by other users.
Here's a screenshot of the tags on the Britney Spears pic above:
That's the power of social media, user generated content and crowdsourcing right there.
One could say the trolls have moved in like a cancer and are hell-bent on ruining things. You could look at it as graffiti or silly kids trying to be funny... but a more sinister group may be lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right time to make their move.
An organized, highly motivated group of people start noticing those tags and start tagging the photos of popular celebrities or even photos with 10's or hundreds of thousands of views. They tag the photos with highly searched for terms, adult oriented words or compelling phrases that pique the viewers interest enough for them to click on the tag.
The viewer is then taken to a list of thumbnails of photos tagged with the same words and phrases - some of which are owned by the rogue taggers and have advertising messages in them.
What's that you say? Someone would have to be insane to spend enough time tagging photos to funnel significant traffic to their sites with this method. And you're right.
The real pros would already be coding up a bot to hit the signup pages of both twitter and twitpic, crack the captchas and mass sign up for thousands of accounts. One of their buddies would simultaneously be working on a way to upload and automatically tag and tweet their database of hundreds of thousands of photos, all watermarked with ads for their products and url's to their sites.
(Yes, tag viewing has been temporarily disabled on Twitpic as I write this - I wonder why?)
After the needle goes into the red a couple of times at twitter and twitpic, they'd work furiously to plug the holes that allowed for the abuse to happen in the first place, but by then, with both sites being so popular, potentially millions of eyeballs would have been exposed to the ads already.
Myspace went through this on a massive scale with the fake accounts and updates a few short years ago and is still going through it to some extent now. Youtube is going through it right now, with marketers playing on the fact that most people are essentially nothing more than perverts, so the porn trailers number in the millions over there.
Twitter itself has a huge red bulls-eye on it's butt right now with every script kiddie and self promoting person or entity in town wanting a piece of it's popularity. It's also at the top of every tech pundits mind - in particular for how it will finally monetize it's exploding user base and traffic.
Maybe the tech outfits like the Twitters and Twitpics who can't figure out a business model need to take some notes on how other people are raking in cash using their platforms.
In fact, one has to look no further than Google's AdSense program to see an example of a company reaping huge monetary rewards from early rampant spam and gaming by both advertisers and publishers. Many of the old techniques used by spammers to enhance clicks and earnings are now standard practices implemented by the company itself.
If the users invent ways to make money by gaming these tech companies and social media, it's called spam. But if the companies put those techniques in practice, it's called a business model. Right?