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Twitter wants mobile industry followers

What are you twittering about? You want more money?

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MWC First day at Mobile World Congress sees Twitter, that well-known mobile phone company, secure the second keynote. So ... not a carrier, not a handset manufacturer, and with no way of making money for the mobile industry beyond providing more traffic (and lots of things, like X-factor voting do that), the only thing that merits the first day billing is fashion.

Twitter is cool. The GSMA wants to be seen as cool so, while Nokia is relegated to a panel session on Day 3, Twitter gets the packed hall.

What Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has to say doesn’t make it more mobile-centric. He admits that the experience isn’t well integrated to most phones – you have to switch apps – and that’s something he wants to fix. He also says that only 40 per cent of people use Twitter from a mobile device and half the people using Twitter use multiple platforms.

His interest in mobile, however, is more relevant. Mobile is a major source of Twitter growth, particularly in the emerging world, where text messaging is used as a way into Twitter. Of course this misses the ability to follow any links and Twitter without links is just broadcast text messages.

There is no doubt that his heart is in the right place. There is support and innovation for the sake of it – helping in Haiti on the basis of karma – and the lessons learned there with Digicel have paid back in processes they’ve used elsewhere.

Costolo wanted to educate the mobile industry about how to make his service more valuable for him. He said that when people make a couple of what he calls "social connections" – that is, they follow someone who follows them back – they become a much stickier user. And being engaged is what matters. They dropped the box which said “what are you doing now”, because the obvious answer was “logging into Twitter”. People using it as an entertainment source are just bored sitting at home. Of course someone mobile is far more likely to be doing something interesting.

The new announcements amounted to multi-word trending and a crowd-sourced translation service, but more emphasis was given to just how big and successful Twitter is, growing from 27 tweets a second during the Super Bowl last year to sustained bursts of 3,000-a-second this year and a peak of 4,000-a-second at the end of the game. It’s running at about 130 million tweets a day. He railed against a description of the service as microblogging, saying it was like calling a car a horseless carriage. While cars meant independence for people, Twitter is the creator of a social revolution, Costolo said.

Twitter might do nothing for the mobile industry, but it’s great for television. People who want to tweet while a show is on have to watch it live. Watching live means having to sit through the advertisements, so it would be an antidote for the scourge of the broadcaster – the PVR. At least, it would be, if people didn’t spend ad-break tweeting rather than watching the adverts – or worse: not wanting to wait for a latest episode discussed on twitter and so pulling it off Bittorrent.

The most interesting part of the presentation was the answer to a question from Credit Suisse First Boston, which asked where the money was.

Twitter sells three services: promoted trends, promoted tweets and promoted accounts. Advertisers pay to have a trend pushed up a list – Disney got Toy Story 3 to position 11 in searches with the application of cash. Promoted tweets and accounts work in the same way, although accounts only show with web access.

Presumably the desire to have a homogenous feel across devices is designed to fix that. When a tweet is promoted to you, it is the result of exhaustive data-mining of your account. They will look at what or who you follow and build a profile which can be sold to advertisers. So perhaps you might like to unfollow Ann Summers now ... ®

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