Monetising social networks: Tweeting all the way to the bank – Can virtual communities make billions of dollars from their millions of connections?

Whenever the founders of Twitter, a social-networking service, have been asked about how much revenue they expect to generate from their creation, they have politely deflected the question. So when a hacker recently leaked documents after gaining access to the private e-mail accounts of a Twitter employee and the wife of one of its founders, the blogosphere was abuzz. The haul included a spreadsheet showing revenues reaching $140m by the end of 2010, up from $4.4m this year. Twitter dismissed the document as out of date, but it showed the firm’s owners believe it has the potential to mint serious money.Their confidence is not surprising: Twitter is now thought to have around 23m users. Other social networks have also been piling on members. Facebook, one of the biggest networks along with News Corporation’s MySpace, has seen membership leap from 100m in August 2008 to some 250m today. With the number of people online worldwide expected to go from 1.5 billion today to 2.2 billion by 2013, according to Forrester Research, many of these networks will grow like Topsy.

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