Twitter courts outside developers behind its success

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The Independent Online

Twitter is wooing software developers who have helped the micro-blogging service rocket to worldwide stardom but now face being displaced by the hot company's own creations.

"It is clearly a tension and it is why we are trying to show where we are going," Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said at the start of "Chirp," the San Francisco-based firm's first developers conference.

Williams said it is natural for Twitter and other Internet services to have mixed complementary and competitive relationships with software savants who craft programs building on their technology platforms.

Internet stars including Facebook and Twitter have found success in letting outside developers craft fun, hip or functional programs that enhance basic online offerings.

Twitter has topped 105 million registered users and is adding 300,000 new accounts a day, said co-founder Biz Stone, revealing the figures for the first time since the firm launched in March 2006.

Stone also said that the Twitter.com website receives about 180 million unique visitors a month.

Many users access the service through software applications created by third-party developers and not through Twitter.com.

Applications tied to Twitter were credited with driving 75 percent of traffic to the website, routing three billion requests a day to the firm's servers.

As Twitter grows, it is starting to create its own versions of programs built by third-party developers and buy up firms behind some hot applications.

"What is important is where we are going," Evans told the gathering of nearly 1,000 software developers in the theater of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

"There are thousands of ways to use Twitter that haven't even been imagined yet. There is so much left to invent. It is really early and we can do it together."

On Tuesday, Twitter unveiled a plan to use advertising to turn its massive popularity into profit.

A service called "Promoted Tweets" will allow companies and others to pay to place 140-character-or-less messages known as "tweets" atop pages of search results.

"Promoted tweets are not ads," Twitter chief operating officer Dick Costolo said at the two-day Chirp gathering that runs through Thursday.

"All that exists in our monetization platform are tweets. It is not just about Twitter.com making money, we could have done that a long time ago. It is about the entire ecosystem making money."

Twitter will evenly split revenue after costs from promoted tweets with developers of applications that carry the messages, according to Costolo.

Another part of Twitter's revenue strategy will be paid commercial accounts for businesses wanting to establish brand identities on the service.

"Think of those two as the core pillars," Costolo said. "There will be additional revenue from combinations of those things."

Companies including Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks, and Virgin America, have signed up to take part in the first phase of a promoted tweets program that Twitter is cautiously rolling out.

"There have been a lot of changes with Twitter lately," Williams said. "We've been getting into areas people never thought we would; making money for instance."

Williams announced a new "Points of Interest" feature that provides mini-maps pinpointing which restaurants, bars, parks or other venues "tweets" come from and then letting people see messages from others in those spots.

A panel of venture capitalists grilled on stage painted the friction between Twitter and developers as typical evolution for Internet firms.

Twitter needs to "fill holes" by integrating important features heretofore provided only in the form of applications by outside developers, said venture capitalists Peter Fenton and Bijan Sabet, who are investors in the firm.

"I'm not buying all the feel-good-make-love-not-war thing," Polaris Ventures partner Michael Hirshland said during the exchange.

"Thinking Twitter wouldn't build into the platform is just naive."

Twitter recently released applications for iPhone and Blackberry smartphones and, according to Williams, is working on an "awesome" version for handsets running on Android software spearheaded by Google.

Twitter said its eyes are on growing to half a billion users and that it is leaving lots of fertile ground for developers to make applications.

"There are plenty of opportunities for us," said Loic Le Meur, founder of Seesmic social networking technology startup.

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