Twitter has stolen the spotlight in the last week. It started off with the launch of a Twitter-built BlackBerry App and then escalated with the acquisition of Tweetie and the launch of Twitter’s ad platform.
Now the spotlight is shining brightly at Twitter’s Chirp conference in San Francisco. Yesterday, Twitter’s Director of Platform Ryan Sarver announced on stage three new features for users and developers: Places, User Streams and Annotations.
I sat down with Sarver to discuss these new Twitter features and how they will affect users. We also discussed the state of the Twitter developer ecosystem and how the company intends to grow and expand while appeasing third-party developers in the process.
First, we discussed the core philosophy underlying the recent changes at Twitter. As Ryan told me, the company is maturing and asked itself at the beginning of the year, “what are we going to do when we grow up?” The answer is: Grow the platform while enabling developers to do more unique things with it.
The first new feature we discussed is Places, also known as Points of Interest. This new feature, Ryan explained to me, is not like Foursquare or Gowalla, where users check in. Instead, developers will be able to attach location-based metadata and use it to enhance their products.
Here’s an example: Say you tweet from a park. Twitter’s new Places feature will recognize your location and then allow you to access relevant metadata, including the ability to see other tweets from that location and who those tweets are coming from. Places is less like a Foursquare competitor and more like a subset of another new feature rolling out later this year, Annotations.
Annotations, which launches next quarter, allows developers to attach little pieces of metadata to tweets. This could be anything from location to tags to notes. Sarver believes that the feature will be huge, but that the company shouldn’t decide what data should be attached or how people use that data. Those decisions, he said, are up to developers.
The final new feature announced today is User Streams, which will make Twitter apps real-time. Instead of waiting for API calls every few minutes to update your TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop applications, updates to your Twitter stream will appear in real-time in your apps. Ryan Sarver says that this feature has really changed how he is using Twitter — in fact, he tweeted about it last night as a teaser for Chirp.
One of the big stories coming out of last week’s Tweetie acquisition and the launch of the BlackBerry app has been developer uneasiness. Now that Tweetie has become a free application and been renamed “Twitter for iPhone,” other Twitter iPhone apps have been left out in the cold.
I asked Ryan about this very issue, specifically why it happened and how it could be prevented from occurring again. His biggest takeaway from the fiasco: Twitter has to give more cues and provide more information about what’s going to happen on the platform. He wants to provide information on the things “you can count on for the next three months.” However, the company believes that they can’t provide accurate guidance beyond that time frame.
Mashable’s Social Media & Tech Reporter Jolie O’Dell dug a little further, asking Ryan about how he planned to quell the tension between developers and Twitter. His response was straightforward: There is always some tension between platforms and apps, but they need to work together in order to best serve users.
He pointed to what CEO Evan Williams said earlier in the day: The company needs to do things that will grow the entire platform. This, in turn, will benefit all users and thus developers.
Twitter’s announcement of an in-house advertising service on Monday night has changed the perceived viability of startups like Scoopler and Collecta that had hooked up to Twitter’s firehose of tweets in hopes of serving ads. To make things worse, serial moneymaker Bill Gross has launched his own startup, TweetUp, which is also a play for the pockets of those looking to do marketing and advertising on Twitter.
But there are still ways to make money off Twitter that don’t involve competing for ad budgets. The most built-out attempt is probably The Ellerdale Project, a San Francisco startup launched in 2008 and funded by several angels including Ron Conway and Roger Sippl. Ellerdale’s plan is to host a real-time Twitter search and analysis site that serves as a marketing machine for selling professional services to enterprise customers, the kind who’ll write big checks on a predictable schedule instead of throwing over one penny at a time.
Ellerdale’s core strength is its Twitter index, which can handle the hundreds — soon to be thousands — of tweets per second that Twitter feeds Ellerdale through its “firehose” API. By processing all tweets instead of a statistically relevant example, Ellerdale can promise customers that they won’t miss a thing.
CEO Jens Christensen told me in a phone interview that Ellerdale’s differentiator is its ability to categorize tweets by topic, rather than by keywords. In theory, it can tell a tweet about Internet Explorer from one about a Ford Explorer from one about Dora the Explorer.
Easier said than done, given the small amount of text and metadata available to work with in the average tweet. Indexing much more text-and-link rich Web pages into categories is a lot easier than processing millions of tiny tweets per minute into specific topics.
Does it work? The company’s demo site, trends.ellerdale.com, maintains live Top 10 lists of topics on Twitter: People, Politics, Music, Film, etc. You can watch the lists jiggle every few seconds as they’re updated onscreen. The lists are populist and the links not wildly different from what you’ll find on Google News. Teen singer Justin Bieber is atop several pages right now. The page for funding seems to be playing it too safe, with only a few posts per day being added.
But Ellerdale’s pitch isn’t aimed at general-interest Web searchers. It’s aimed at brand managers who want to keep a thumb on the pulse of their products. It’s aimed at companies that want to know what’s being said about them by every single person on Twitter. Most important as a business, it’s aimed at customers who’ll pay a fee for reliable, always-on, customized information — the kind Twitter hasn’t proven able to provide. Ellerdale doesn’t get to have a Fail Whale.
Companies: The Ellerdale Project
People: Jens Christensen