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Twitter eyes up its biggest client

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TweetDeck, the discerning Twit's desktop client, is in discussions with Twitter about selling itself to the micro-blogging service for $50m, which could be small change to prevent the client turning into a competitor.

The Wall Street Journal reckons the companies are "in advanced talks" about Twitter acquiring TweetDeck and its eponymous client, perhaps with a view to using TweetDeck's interface to enhance its own offering, but also to forestall any competitor emerging from within the client applications.

That's what Ubermedia was expected to do when TechCrunch reported that Ubermedia had bought TweetDeck, a story that turned out to be false despite being confirmed by Peter Kafka at All Things Digital. Ubermedia already owns a handful of Twitter clients, and it was thought that once it had paid $30m for TweetDeck it would launch a competitor to Twitter and offer easy transition for users from within their favourite client software.

Which is probably the only way a competitor to Twitter could now emerge – social networks live by their membership, which becomes more loyal as it becomes larger. In the west, Twitter has an effective monopoly, and thus innovates little, while in China (where Twitter is banned by an oppressive regime) there are competing networks that constantly innovate to create new features.

Twitter is trying to move things along, working to appeal to a younger audience (Facebook attracts a younger crowd, while the average Twitter user is knocking 40). The company has been trying to take itself mainstream by highlighting celebratory contributions, and using demographic information to more accurately target tweets which might be of interest to a particular user.

Twitter also needs to make some more money – estimates put Twitter's advertising revenue for 2010 at $45m, with 2011 expected to raise three times that – but that's not enough to justify Twitter's $10bn valuation.

TweetDeck is written using Adobe Air, making it surprisingly cross-platform, with a decent Android version as well as the various flavours of desktop OS which are all supported. An iOS version is apparently in the works, but Apple's reticence to support third-party execution environments won't help that effort.

Whether TweetDeck is worth $50m is open to debate – Ubermedia's offer was reported at $30m only two months ago – but when the client is viewed as a potential jumping off point for a competitor, then it becomes a lot more attractive to all the sides involved. ®

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