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Here Come The Ads All Up In Your Phone's Twitter Stream

Twitter has been basically ad-free on phones. That's about to change. Get ready for sponsored tweets in your timeline.

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You might've noticed — or more pleasantly, not noticed — you basically don't see advertising ("promoted" tweets) in the official Twitter app on your phone, unless maybe you accidently click on Discover and glance at a promoted trend. And advertisements were once limited to brands you directly followed — like a promoted tweet from Starbucks, if you followed it. That's changing.

The new way advertising on mobile Twitter apps is going to work, you'll soon see promoted tweets in your main timeline feed, and not necessarily from brands you follow. The goal is still make them relevant to you, though, so they'll hue to Twitter's "interest graph," which is sort of the secret sauce that underpins a lot of Twitter — who it tells you to follow, for instance — not unlike Facebook's "social graph," though it's mostly correlated to who you follow, and who they follow. In practice, that means if you follow a group of people that follow say, Uniqlo, you might see promoted tweets from Uniqlo, even if you don't follow it. Or if you follow Intelligentsia Coffee, you might see an ad from Peet's Coffee. But you won't get bombarded very hard, either from the same advertiser or on the same day — Twitter doesn't want to push you away, and it's a fine line it's trying to walk.

Advertisers can target their ads according to platform (like desktop vs. iOS vs. Android), though it's interesting Twitter isn't yet letting them tap the thing that makes mobile ads so potentially valuable to advertisers: location. It's not hard to see a situation where you open Twitter near a Target store and then get hit with a tweet about an Easter sale on Peeps because you follow a candy blog on Twitter. Sound creepy? It's what advertising is going to look like, sooner rather than later. Relevancy is currency.

And these Twitter ads may well be more relevant to you than more of the stuff on Facebook (or maybe not), but I'm curious to see if people are going to blithely ignore the occasional promoted tweet popping up in their timeline, or if the fact that screen real estate and time are by definition scarce resources on mobile devices is going to be a catalyst for a mini-freakout, given that a promoted tweet potentially steals both. If it gets too annoying, I'm just switching back to the old, Loren Brichter-designed Twitter.

But even that's a temporary kludge to dam up the flow of ads coming to my phone through apps. Look no further than Facebook's IPO filing for evidence of that:

"Growth in use of Facebook through our mobile products, where we do not currently display ads, as a substitute for use on personal computers may negatively affect our revenue and financial results."

The mobile ads are coming, and they're going to be here to stay. At least if we like all those free services we're using.

But hey, it could be worse. It could be the #dickbar.