After weeks of speculation about what Twitter was going to launch at SXSW, the company unveiled @anywhere. But even after founder Evan Williams’ keynote, it’s not clear what the new service is exactly, apart from the fact that it provides popup windows on participating sites.

Updated: Twitter founder Evan Williams was widely expected to announce an advertising platform at the SXSW conference, but while he announced something with dozens of major media partners, it wasn’t an ad platform — it was something called @anywhere. And what is @anywhere? Good question. In fact, that’s just one of the many good questions that attendees hoped in vain would be asked by Umair Haque of Harvard Business Review, whose interviewing skills received less-than-critical acclaim during and after the keynote.

The official Twitter blog entry about the launch of @anywhere isn’t much help when it comes to answering the question of what the new service is — or at least it’s not as much help as you might expect it to be, what with this being one of the most hotly awaited SXSW keynotes in recent memory. The blog post describes the service as recreating the kind of “open, engaging interactions” between users that Twitter provides, but integrating that into any web site through Javascript, and thus “providing a new layer of value for visitors without sending them to Twitter.com.”

And that’s pretty much it. No descriptions of what this might involve, no screenshots of what it might look like (although the Los Angeles Times seems to have whipped up its own), just some logos of partners like eBay and Yahoo and Digg. The way Twitter has described it, @anywhere will allow readers of articles at the New York Times and other sites to click and follow writers directly from their bylines, and — judging by what Evan Williams told Anil Dash on Twitter — will also let them click and see information about popular Twitter users who are mentioned on a participating site, by way of a popup window triggered by mousing over a link, similar to the hover popups at Twitter.com. Embedded below is a video clip that Kirsten Cluthe of MediaBistro shot of the Twitter founder describing how sites will use @anywhere.

So then @anywhere is popup windows? Not exactly the earth-shattering announcement everyone seemed to be hoping for. As Liz has pointed out, these types of features — following someone from a page, posting something to Twitter directly from a site, etc. — are already widely available through a number of services and features built into sites (such as the New York Times). There has been some speculation that @anywhere will also be a competitor for Facebook Connect, allowing users to log in with their Twitter credentials (also something that many sites already do) and then incorporate their behavior on the site into their Twitter stream somehow.

It’s worth noting, however, that neither the Twitter blog post nor Evan Williams’ keynote suggested anything like the kind of features that Facebook Connect provides by being integrated into sites such as The Huffington Post — although Williams told Om on Twitter that more details would be coming at the company’s upcoming Chirp conference. Hopefully those details will flesh out a service that provides some real bang for Twitter, because so far @anywhere seems like a bit of a whimper.

Update: In an email message, Twitter’s VP of communications Sean Garrett said that @anywhere “will initially provide sign-in and sign-up capabilites, hovercard integration, the ability to present curated suggested user lists and other means to experience Twitter without leaving a participating site.” He added that Twitter thinks the new service “brings lots of added relevance for users; creates a richer experiences for sites and makes it easier for Twitter to both add and actively engage people,” and that the company thinks @anywhere will be “a big deal.”

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user b_heyer

For the GigaOM network’s complete SXSW coverage, check out this round-up.

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

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  1. Why would any serious publisher put this on their site? Can someone explain this? I cannot figure it out. Publishers are already driving follower adoption from their sites. Many have even added crappy Twitter widgets (which I believe are awful and useless) so why would a publisher want more Twitter on their site?

    1. A fair question, Tolleson. It sounds like Twitter wants to make it easier for publishers to implement those kinds of things, rather than having to do them piecemeal or code something in-house.

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  4. I sense disappointment at no Twitter ad platform being announced.
    I for one feel relief, rather than disappointment.

  5. Mathew – Williams did show a number of screenshots during the presentation — of the way users would hover over a Javascript Twitter widget to get more info and share stories, and examples for how publishers could incorporate it to tie into their writers’ accounts. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me good enough to capture them from the middle of the auditorium.

    1. Thanks, Liz — I just thought it might have made sense to have a bit more explanation/screenshots etc. on the blog post or somewhere else at Twitter.com as well, that’s all.

  6. Seamus Condron Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    I get the criticism of the keynote. I was there. Yes, it was awful. But the weakness of the keynote and the validity of the product are two different things. The most important feature of @anywhere, as I see it, the contextual integration, which was briefly demonstrated and explained. In hindsight, I wish the whole conversation centered around it, but I think the product announcement was likely not planned until very recently.

    That being said, I think regular users like us underestimate the barrier average users face with discovery and making the service useful to them. Ev and Twitter have often made note of this problem. The contextual integration may seem like a minor thing, and not even original (Apture has been doing contextual integration very well). However, I think this feature is one of the most important things Twitter has rolled out. The Suggested User List was awful. It’s new incarnation is not much better. I think @anywhere will play an important role for the now passive Twitter users to get more value out of the service.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Seamus — and perhaps you are right, that this kind of integration will make it easier for Twitter users who aren’t power users to discover new content or people to follow. It will be interesting to see if that actually happens.

  7. Sanjay Maharaj Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    I really don’t understand what the disappointment is all about.Twitter is still a start up and they are being vigilant as to how they carve out a winning long term revenue model. I am sure exisitng users on Twitter are not crying for a ad platform, they are simply satisfied to have the abiltiy to use the service. Sometime and in most cases, all this hype is media generated

  8. @Sanjay…I would agree… Twitter has much to anticipate as a startup.

  9. This is just spin and nonsense. Publishers don’t NEED more Twitter on their sites. We have enough, thank you very much.

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