Twitter works great for the "twitterati," but in many ways it has failed to penetrate the mainstream web. For many people who aren't attached to their phones 24/7 or aren't multitasking between work and a stream of micro-thoughts of questionable depth, Twitter is a buzzword, something the media loves to chatter about but signifying nothing.
So on Monday, Twitter took a step toward the mainstream as CEO Evan Williams announced the @Anywhere platform, which will pull Twitter feeds into media web sites. He announced the new system at the start of an on-stage dialogue with Umair Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab. After that announcement, most of the audience seemed to find the conversation boring as attendees streamed out during their talk.
Williams showed a quick demonstration of @Anywhere with web sites showing "hovercards." Mousing over these brings up some Twitter posts and a way to link to a user's Twitter account. Other possibilities are linking to an author's Twitter feed by clicking on a byline.
@Anywhere is launching with 13 big-name partners, including Digg, The New York Times, MSnbc.com, eBay, Amazon.com and Microsoft's Bing search engine. The idea is to find ways to discover good content on Twitter that users will want to subscribe to.
"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."
A company blog post pointed out that Twitter has fewer constraints than social networks like Facebook. "When we designed Twitter, we took a different approach -- we didn't require a relationship model like that of a social network," it said.
"You could follow any account and be followed by any account. As a result, companies started interacting with customers, celebrities connected with fans, governments became more transparent, and people started discovering and sharing information in a new, participatory manner," the post said.
Describing @Anywhere, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone said, "We've developed a new set of frameworks for adding this Twitter experience anywhere on the web. Soon, sites many of us visit every day will be able to recreate these open, engaging interactions, providing a new layer of value for visitors without sending them to Twitter.com."
But to the degree that this is about partnering with huge media companies, rather than enabling small sites to exploit Twitter, the initiative pushes Twitter into the world of big content rather than user-driven technology. Twitter would become essentially a one-way tool, with media companies and advertisers trying to garner fans of the short messaging bursts and leveraging that dynamic onto their high-volume web sites.
Despite Williams' protestation that "it's not an ad platform, it's an at-platform," a reference to the @ sign used to target tweeters, the new platform will clearly unveil new advertising possibilities.
Whether @Anywhere is used only by media companies or by individual and small business web sites -- and Williams was vague about ultimate marketing plans -- "what the @Anywhere strategy does is create a more seamless way to find content and/or people you want to follow and easily follow them. It makes the discovery process simpler and easier to aggregate by integrating the Twitter experience seamlessly into any web site," said Ben Bajarin, director of consumer technology analysis and research for Creative Strategies.