SXSW: Twitter’s Ad Platform That Isn’t

Twitter was widely expected to take the wraps off its ad platform at the South by Southwest conference today. Instead, CEO Evan Williams threw the crowd for a loop by instead unveiling an information-sharing tool for publishers.

The @anywhere service lets publishers embed code on their sites that will turn hyperlinks of key terms on Web pages into repositories of Twitter information. SXSW’s notoriously fickle crowds lived up to their reputation, complaining via Twitter that the interview was boring with many leaving the session early.

“The big thing [the] @anywhere platform does is reduce friction,” Williams (pictured above) said. “Discovery is one of the hardest challenges because there are thousands of topics or bands you want to follow. It’s putting them in context.”

Publishers implementing @anywhere include The New York Times, The Huffington Post and Twitter said it would open the application programming interface to other publishers. It did not set a date for wide availability.

The service does not include advertising. It works when a user mouses over a highlighted term in an article or Web page. A box will appear containing Twitter data related to the term, such as an account associated with a company or celebrity and recent updates.

Tech blogs widely discussed what was expected to be an ad announcement during Williams’ keynote interview at the conference. The interview was pegged as the high point of the festival, particularly since Twitter rose to prominence here three years ago.

Instead, attendees were left grumbling that the interviewer, Havas Media Lab director Umair Haque, tossed only softballs and spent too much time talking about Internet generalities. Dozens of attendees left the exhibition hall in Austin, Texas, prior to the conclusion of the hour-long interview.

Williams said Twitter, which he describes as an information network rather than a social network, is committed to experimenting with business models. Also a founder of Blogger and podcasting company Odeo, Williams said prior entrepreneurial experience taught him this is the best approach.

“Whatever you assume when you start out, you’re wrong,” he said.

See also:

Adweek’s Brian Morrissey: Live at SXSW

“SXSW: Mad Men Meet Techies”

“Whither Twitter?”