Twitter's @anywhere: Not a Bang But a Whimper

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YS5iGtWixU&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

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

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This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

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