WASHINGTON — I have just solved one of the thorniest challenges facing many modern businesses, including my own: how to monetize the Web.
Without this knowledge, newspapers are dying. The music industry is suffering. Even the fabulously popular online social networking site Twitter hasn't quite figured it out: it's still not pulling a profit despite its millions of users.
Well, I've solved the problem. And, ironically, I did it through Twitter.
It happened almost by accident last month after Twitter got a jolt of great publicity by helping to keep people in touch with each other in Tehran during the street protests over the Iranian elections.
Now, this was just swell for human freedom and dignity and whatnot, but it was personally troubling for me. That's because I'm on record deriding Twitter.
So I decided to launch a two-tiered experiment to re-establish that, at its dweeby little heart, Twitter exists primarily to serve individuals with an insatiable appetite for crap.
Tier One involved creating a visual Twitter icon for myself that is so disgusting I am not allowed to even describe it here. This immediately won me 50 new "followers" and lost me none, not even the woman who wrote to complain that my icon is the worst thing in the world and she cannot bear to look at it even momentarily, between slit fingers, at a glance.
So far, so good.
Tier Two of my plan involved creating and unleashing a one-day barrage of "tweets" so inane that no one with any personal standards would tolerate it. Once I started, I did not stop for 24 hours. Thus:
"What great general was really constipated? Ulysses S. Grunt."
"What peace activist wore only a loin cloth and dentures, because his teeth had rotted out? Mahatma Candy."
"What U.S. president was sexually insatiable? James K. Poke."
"What African-American inventor developed 300 uses for the taxi meter? George Washington Carfare."
"What inventor developed 300 uses for bull manure? George Washington Carville."
"What great religious leader urged his followers to seek the milk of human kindness? The Prophet Moo-hammad."
"What comedian tragically died of lung cancer? Andy Coughman."
"What soccer star had a weakness for bordellos? PayLay."
"What animal rights organization has deep pockets? PITA."
"Who is just waiting for his turn to be president of the United States? Joe Bidin'."
"What leader has clearly demonstrated he is not the dangerous maniac his opponents predicted he'd be? Barack 'Who's Sane' Obama."
"What werewolf general would only invade by the light of a full moon? Dwight David Eisenhowl."
"Who was not at ALL funny? Art Buchenwald."
"Who likes to dress really sexy for Tim Robbins? Susan Saranwrap."
• • •
By the end of the barrage, I'd gotten 12 polite but fervent requests to stop the punishment, and I'd actually lost 14 of my 500-plus followers. But I also got 19 new followers for a net gain. I considered my experiment done and a success.
But then I had my moment of inspiration. (As with Archimedes, I, too, happened to be in the bathroom at the time.) (Just for the record.)
I sent out another tweet:
"OK, is anyone willing to pay me $1.25 to stop?"
Within mere seconds, four Twitterers solemnly declared this transaction well worthwhile, and I gave them an address to mail their checks. In short, I had made $5 in return for a promise to do nothing. A viable business model!
Because I am a man of my word, I immediately discontinued the terrible puns on people's names. A deal is a deal.
But a business model is a business model.
I waited one more day, then sent out this:
"Knock-knock. Who's there? Your underwear. Your underwear who? Your underwear the yellow went / When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent."
Despite his best efforts, Gene Weingarten (@geneweingarten) can't shake his Twitter followers, as he now has 650-plus.