Terrible Idea: Magpie Twitter Ad Network

By Josh Catone

If we here at SitePoint had no scruples, we could apparently turn on a not-so-insignificant revenue stream via our Twitter account. Fortunately for you, we’d rather have friends on Twitter than enemies. But if we were that evil, newly launched Twitter ad network Magpie tells us that our 12,000+ Twitter followers are worth over US$3,500 per month if we’re willing to spam them with ads.

We’re not, but we wonder how many people will be. Magpie is a third party ad network for Twitter that allows people to sell tweets on their account on a bid per placement basis. The site says it will contextually match ads based on the type of things you’re tweeting about, so you’ll never serve up advertisements about things that don’t match your usual chatter. By default, Magpie plans to send one ad every 5 tweets, but that can be adjusted by the user down to one every 20 tweets, or once every other tweet.

Magpie sells advertisers on a CPM basis, where CPM represents the cost per 1,000 followers who get sent the ad message. They seem to think that they’ll be able to get CPMs of US$5-15, which is why they’re claiming that SitePoint could bring in forty-two grand per year on our 12,000 followers (and presumably more if we upped out tweet count).

We’ve seen first hand over the past couple of weeks the amount of traffic that a top 100 Twitter account can send — it’s not a trivial amount. But we also know that Twitter isn’t just a promotional vehicle, which is why we’ve made it a point to interact with our followers and provide content other than simply links to our own blog posts and articles. Twitter is about the conversation above anything else, and the problem with Magpie is that it ads noise.

Mike Arrington compares Magpie to PayPerPost. But that’s not really a fair comparison, in our view. PayPerPost has some potential ethical issues, but because blogs are generally fairly low volume, it doesn’t add a very significant amount of noise. That’s why were were comfortable adding it to our list of ways to make extra income on the web a couple of weeks ago.

Magpie, on the other hand, deals with Twitter, which is much higher volume then blog publishing. It is not uncommon for a Twitter user to see hundreds or thousands of tweets stream by from the people they follow each day. Imagine if 20% (the Magpie default) of that content was ads. The noise level is just way, way too high.

Magpie also differs from PayPerPost in that it auto inserts ads, so you could find yourself shilling for something you’d rather not be. Unlike Google AdSense or other forms of display advertising, tweets that go out to your followers coming with your name attached and your implicit endorsement.

Our guess is that some people will try Magpie, but they’ll quickly find themselves losing followers and the value of their account diminishing. Either that, or Twitter will amend their TOS and ban the service.

What do you think?

Remember, you can follow us @sitepointdotcom. If you do, we’ll give you a free copy of our book “The Art and Science of CSS.” Check out our Twitaway page for more details. We promise, we won’t be sending you any Magpie ads!

  • Mark

    I think giving Magpie more free publicity like this will only re-enforce the stupidity of the concept.

    If I see a Magpie-ad in a tweet, it’s time to click the unfollow button.

  • cody7002002

    I agree, this is a terrible idea it would ruin twitter

  • Tapio

    Fully right so! I’m only following around 300 people. But already there is some noise so that I regularly unfollow those who are no longer interesting to me or just add tweets that make the interesting ones hard to find.

    Ads every 5 or even 15 tweets from just a few people and Twitter would become unuseable. Or I would just unfollow more, which again would diminish the value of Twitter for me.


  • The name they have chosen for their service is both unfortunate and appropriate at the same time. Here are two dictionary definitions:

    – an incessantly talkative person; noisy chatterer; chatterbox.
    – a person who collects or hoards things, esp. indiscriminately.

    I for one would be very apprehensive about signing up for a service named after a bird that purportedly steals and collects shiny stuff for no apparent reason. But that’s just me.

  • Will

    Already dropped people because of the stupid Magpie ads.
    Good post.

  • @maxbeatty

    I recently signed up for the Magpie with the same caution you’ve outlined. My Magpie account has been active for almost 4 days and I’ve only had one ad inserted even though I’ve tweeted well over the ratio I defined. I haven’t lost any followers, but have had more than one person direct me to negative blog posts about Magpie. My judgement is still out on the service. If they can throw me some bucks without me doing anything but continue tweeting, it’s hard to argue against it. Good post, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

  • libkitty

    I like Twitter because it seems fairly spam-free. If I notice spam, I’ll drop the spammer. If I notice a lot, I’ll drop Twitter. It’s just not worth it.

  • Looks like now would be a good time for an anti-magpie app.

  • I suppose there will be enough people to spam their followers this way. Just that Twitter is some kind of personal network and I guess you won’t spam them many times. One would be enough…

  • I’d block you

  • d

    Why is having ads on your site okay but Magpie isn’t? I don’t see a difference.

  • @d: As I said in the post:

    Magpie, on the other hand, deals with Twitter, which is much higher volume then blog publishing. It is not uncommon for a Twitter user to see hundreds or thousands of tweets stream by from the people they follow each day. Imagine if 20% (the Magpie default) of that content was ads. The noise level is just way, way too high.

  • Wendy Cholbi

    I agree that magpie is a terrible idea, and I’m willing to unfollow those who use it (yes, I have actually done that).

    Stuart Robertson has written a magpie-blocking script called (gotta love it) Scarecrow, which you can use if you use Firefox (and Greasemonkey). Tweetdeck has a “filter” function that you can use to screen out incoming tweets that have the magpie hashtag (although recent rumors are that magpie is now allowing ad tweets WITHOUT the hashtag, which is a horrible idea on top of a terrible one).

  • Anna

    A few things that I didn’t see mentioned in this post, and some points I want to make:
    1. There is a setting on magpie that allows you to approve an ad before it gets posted on twitter.
    2. Magpie is actually very good about posting ads that are relevant to what you twitter anyway, which is why so many new magpies wait days before they see an ad, even if they twitter a lot.
    3. Many, MANY twitter users use twitter to promote their own private businesses and services (etsy, loli, artfire, etc). I don’t think it’s fair to drop followers just because they’re trying to promote their business in a personal manner. They “spam”, hoping to draw traffic to their shops. Is that so terrible?
    4. I get a lot of my news from the automated twitterfeeds I follow. This is spammy, but I enjoy it. I know that others do too.

    There are ways to block magpie feeds if they really bother you that darn much, but I don’t think it’s fair to totally drop a follower just because they use magpie.

  • VE

    I signed up with Magpie to become a publisher with my erotic twitter account.

    Subsequently a follower signed up to add a campaign and after depositing $107 he was told that his campaign was against their terms and conditions due to the website he was advertising having an adult nature. His site isn’t full on pornographic, if anything it is erotic art.

    Anyway, Magpie won’t refund his money, instead they are keeping hold of it should he want to do a different campaign.

    Magpie subsequently left my account untouched, which also goes against their T&C’s due to its adult nature.

    You have to ask yourself why didn’t they close my account straight away so that a situation like this could have been avoided?
    If I hadn’t closed my account, they no doubt would have told me when it came time to post my earnings cheque that I’m not having it due to going against their T&C’s.

    My follower is currently trying to get his money refunded with the help of Paypal and this should be a warning to all potential publishers and advertisers.

    Magpie is unethical in my opinion and I too will block every follower who has signed up to become a publisher.

  • LearnedToLate

    I just started a magpie ad three days ago. Thought is was a fun idea…..until I saw that every ‘ad’ had the #magpie on it. Thus making it a totally obvious ad instead of the faux word of mouth they made it out to be.

    Going to run the ad till my money runs out, since they sure as hell aren’t going to give it back to me.

    Oh well.

  • @MyNetView

    I dont use magpie, but i think it is an interesting way and gives twitter itself more chances to earn money. If they would take $5 per month for an account and i earn it with Magpie everything is right. I only have seen magpie ad and it was for the iPhone contract free. We should wait a time before we judge.

  • @MikeBuechele

    How is giving your followers relative information spam? If you are a vegan blogger and you send a tweet about the new Angus burger at a steak house then you are spamming. If you send a tweet about a new veggie fast food place then you are adding value to your community. I agree with others that disclosure is key, but if the message ads value then it’s not spam. Why is it fine to watch Tiger Woods sell cars in a commercial but we question a Tweeter sending a much more targeted and relevant tweet to their followers? Arrington was wrong about IZEA and the market is showing that this post may be wrong about a Twitter CPM ad network.

  • BitTorrent

    You ask, “Why is it fine to watch Tiger Woods sell cars in a commercial but we question a Tweeter sending a much more targeted and relevant tweet to their followers?”

    My answer, “Who says I watch TV with commercials? TV on DVD, Hulu, or whatever. I try to keep all the commercials I view to a minimum because they’re often irrelevant to what I need/want.”

    Web ads, I never mind because they don’t interfere with content and I can ignore it if they’re irrelevant (when I can’t, I quit visiting that site). That option, if I’m following someone who advertises is non-existent. If they advertise, I can either stop following them or stomach it. Following hundreds of people, cutting loose the ads isn’t a loss.

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