Twitter CEO unveils ‘@Anywhere’ platform

AUSTIN, Texas–Twitter CEO Evan Williams took no time in getting to the juicy part of his keynote address at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival on Monday afternoon. He announced the “@Anywhere” platform, a way to pull Twitter links and data onto partner sites and media outlets.

A brief demo of @Anywhere showed off “hovercards” that bring up Twitter information with a mouse-over, let readers or users connect with their Twitter accounts much like Facebook Connect, or explore more specific possibilities, like instantly following a newspaper columnist’s Twitter account by clicking on his or her byline.

“Discovery is one of the hardest challenges,” Williams said. “It’s putting these in context where you’re already aware of them…Twitter is a very easy way to keep in touch.” The company has 13 launch partners, including Digg, The New York Times,, eBay, Amazon, and Bing. As Williams describes it, “it’s not an ad platform, it’s an ‘@’ platform,” referring to the syntax of using the ‘@’ symbol to denote communication between individual Twitter users.

Williams was interviewed onstage by Umair Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab in what was arguably the most highly anticipated event of the SXSWi lineup. A massive event hall at the Austin Convention Center was filled to capacity, with a line snaking through the hallways half an hour before the talk was scheduled to begin.

The Twitter CEO was sketchier about the details of how @Anywhere will make money, though there are some guesses that big partners will have to pay up for access to the “firehose,” much like its search deals with Twitter and Bing that were announced late last year.

“Inevitably, it’s going to take experimentation,” Williams said. “Google started out thinking that they were going to sell search services.”

A report circulated last month that Twitter was gearing up to launch an ad platform in conjunction with SXSWi, stemming from comments that the company’s head of product management made in a conference panel. Company executives had heretofore been ambivalent as to whether they would start rolling out ads any time soon–or ever.

SXSWi is more or less Twitter’s birthplace: the company made its debut there in 2007, and became an instant sensation with the early-adopter geek crowd. It took about two more years before it could be deemed a legitimate, mainstream sensation, but SXSWi is its home turf.

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