It appears that for now at least, we won't get to find out the value of identity on Twitter.
A few days ago, Rocketboom creator Andrew Baron put his Twitter account up for sale on eBay, offering access to his 1,500-plus followers. (It's now at 1,757 followers.) Within a few days, the bidding had gone over $1,500 and appeared headed for much more.
At the same time, Baron went on Craigslist and was also offering to sell a two-day guest-hosting slot on his Twitter account for $150.
"I really love my Twitter account but I feel like I haven't been using it the way I want to," wrote Baron in the eBay auction description. "Quite honestly, I feel sorry for all of my followers because they wind up with my tweets in their timelines and I haven't been able to utilize the medium the way I want to. I also participate in another Twitter account over on Rocketboom so I'm thinking I'll post more over there and start up a new account to do what I want to do next.
"It would be silly to just delete this account I have here, especially if there is someone out there that had like interests and had something to say or wanted to get involved in some relevant conversations. In terms of monetary value, I have no expectations or needs at all so I decided not to put a minimum bid on this. Whatever will be, will be....The winner of this auction gets my account with all of my followers."
But now, both the auction and the Craigslist ad have been deleted.
In a series of Twitter posts over the last couple days, Baron indicated that he had already been planning to delete the auction when eBay contacted him and told him he needed to move it to a different category than the one it had originally been posted under.
But rather than doing that, he Twittered, he removed the auction himself. He also said Craigslist maintains that his attempt to sell a guest-hosting spot on the Twitter account violated terms of service.
In an interview Thursday morning, Baron explained his rationale behind the decision to take down the auction.
Essentially, he said, a fellow Twitterer wrote him suggesting that the people who were bidding the eBay auction well into four figures were "all spam marketers, people who will do anything just to get their name out there, people who don't understand Web 2.0 and blogging."
"I already knew," Baron said, "there would be a great range of different types of (possible) outcomes. But I believed that I would be able to manage the outcome by trying to make a positive outcome for the buyer, for my friends and followers. Even if it wasn't a good fit, I (believed) I could work with them. But after I heard that they were all just spam marketers, that just kind of killed it for me and I didn't want to risk that."
Baron told me that he was concerned that many people who have been following the saga of his trying to sell his Twitter account on eBay would assume that, because there had been a fair amount of backlash against him for the planned sale, he was just trying to save face by pulling the plug on the auction.
Instead, he insisted to me, he just felt very uneasy about having the account--and his many followers--fall into the hands of people who didn't necessarily have any idea how to use the account in a way that benefits all concerned.
Some may say that even that rationale is just a way to try to save face, and it may well be. After all, we don't really know for a fact that the auction bidders were really spam marketers. And it's likely there's no way to ever know what is really going on in Baron's mind.
Regardless, Baron said that he had already been cooking up an entirely different plan for his Twitter account when eBay called him.
Unfortunately--for me, at least--he wouldn't say what this plan is.
"When I first put the auction up, I got a Twitter from somebody," he said, "who had another idea I liked much better....There were several ways to keep the auction going and have an end result, and that still would have worked better, but the plan would work (even) better by deleting it."
To me, this is all rather unfortunate. I was, and I think many others were too, very curious to see the value of identity in a case like this demonstrated in such a visceral way. After all, this is a market economy and if someone is willing to pay $1,500 for Andrew Baron's Twitter identity, then we begin to get a sense of what such a thing is really worth.
Then again, does $1,500 of a spammer's money equate to the same amount for someone who is actually active in the Web 2.0 world? Perhaps not.
To Baron, the auction spawned discussions online and off about many other fascinating issues: that of intellectual property law, what friends are, the difference among friends on Facebook, friends on Twitter, and real-world friends, and even angles of technology, marketing, and advertising.
"That's been the most exciting" element of this whole thing, Baron said. "And if I had mentioned what (my new) plan was, that would have killed the conversations."