Ads Coming to Google Maps

Google embraces location-based ads. Twitter promises not to, but is it inevitable?

You’ll soon start seeing ads in Google Maps. It’s inevitable, given how the company works, and the move stands in direct contrast to Twitter, which will remain ad-free at least until 2010.


Google will start what it’s dubbing as an experiment in the next few weeks–though it’s tight-lipped about how the system works. We do know that company logos will appear dotted on maps at the relevant business location when you zoom in, but it’s unclear whether they’ll appear permanently, whether they’ll be generated when you search for a point-to-point route, and whether you can turn them off. It’s also not clear whether logos will only be visible on the desktop version of Google maps or whether they’ll also appear in mobile services like the iPhone Maps app.

Think of it as an extremely basic implementation of an augmented reality system–something akin to Bionic Eye. It’s also no surprise: Google’s business model is about selling tailored advertising to users as bolt-ons to its main services like search. The company knows there’s good money to be made selling location-based ads via Maps, though it hasn’t revealed which company’s it’s partnering with for the experiment.

Google’s business model is in total opposition to the way Twitter’s management sees the future of their service. Biz Stone previously noted that Twitter won’t be using ads to generate revenue, and will instead charge for information-mining add-ons for business–and just this week Stone restated his position. Speaking at the Twitter conference, Stone again ruled out selling ad space on Twitter in 2009, but he didn’t extend that promise for 2010. This tallies with news that the company has just raised another $100 million in funding–money that the company can use to expand its operations without worrying about revenue generation. This aligns with its non-profit behavior so far.

But it’s in conflict with some recently published research from media researchers Interpret. The research suggests that Twitter users are much more responsive to online advertising than are users of other social networking sites. Evidently Twitter users turned out to be twice as likely to click on ads or sponsored links served up by other sites than non-Twitterers. And 24% of Twitter users reviewed or rated products at other sites, versus 12% of users of other social sites. They’re also nearly twice as likely to search for company profile information. The reasons are complex, but it’s probably due to the differing demographics between Twitter and its social web rivals, and the typically brief times needed for interacting with Twitter versus the deeper interaction that users have on Facebook. And despite Twitter’s anti-ad stance, some 20% of Tweets mention brands or products somewhere among the 140 characters.

These sort of statistics could well be why Stone intimated that ads are in Twitter’s future–it makes perfect sense when players like Google are moving to more targeted ads, and why even the social-network/gaming site Foursquare is planning on selling ads. With Twitter soon to add in geolocation on a Tweet-by-Tweet basis it could be a perfect vehicle for location-based ads, which could even be more potent than Google Maps’ advertising since they could be served up on a live per-Tweet basis. 


About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.