Picture 5.pngJon Fine of Business week lays out an interesting concept around Twitter: an attention economy, where the primary currency that is being traded on Twitter is just that…getting people to pay attention to you.

The problem is, what’s in it for the people who are craving the attention and building the huge followings, Fine asks?

Twitter equals pure attention for the people who “succeed” on it—that is, draw in a huge coterie of followers. (It’s also extremely personal, which is why it’s so seductive. It’s certainly sucking up a chunk of my attention, at least for the time being.) But there are no direct dollars in it for those who score zillions of followers, and no way to see how they can make any dough from Twitter. In-tweet ads? If Google and YouTube can’t figure out how to make in-video ads work on YouTube—an ad form that people have been consuming since birth—how will anyone make an ad embedded within an IM work?

With his characteristic economy, Fine concludes “Twitter, for its users, is best conceived as a new promotional thingie to drive someone somewhere else/build awareness of a personal brand.”

Twitter will make money of this, Fine believes. And the people will continue to contribute their content for free, because they can benefit from the attention they get.

Is he right?

twitter-top-202Take a look at the Top 20 Twitterers as ranked by Twitterholic. Number one is CNN, number 2 Britney Spears. Number 3, Ashton Kutcher. You get to our president at number 5, and then Ellen Degeneris at 6.

News organizations, entertainment figures, celebrities, musicians round out the top 15.

You do get some internet personalities in the top 20 — Evan Williams, Pete Cashmore — and they are using Twitter to help drive traffic to their own money-generating sites.

Each one of these figures can leverage Twitter to enhance and solidify a public persona that makes them money. For the information providers, like Mashable, the ability to tap into a large audience on Twitter helps to create a predictable traffic flow, generates dialogue around their concepts and services, and minimizes some of the randomness of managing Google’s impenetrable SEO algorithms.

At this point of its life, Twitter can sound like a social media echo chamber to a lot of users, since so many of the active users are experimenting with social media or promoting their own expertise around social media.

But that long tail of users is what makes access to the top media, entertainment and music celebrities so much fun: you are part of your own peanut gallery, and can weigh in, snark, laugh, satirize or mimic to your heart’s content. It’s fun, it’s easy and you’re in the middle of a cool internet phenomenon while you’re doing it.