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TwitPic founder tries to pull rug from under Twitter

Revenge rug-tug bid against colossus probably doomed

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

The creator of Twitpic, the photo-sharing system sitting atop Twitter, has launched his own Twitter clone.

Heello [sic] launched last week and looks surprisingly like Twitter, in layout and function. It refers to "tweets" as "pings", and "followers" as "listeners", but otherwise has little to distinguish, or recommend, itself, so much so that some are suggesting its just a complicated protest against the overriding power of the establishment.

But founder Noah Everett is having none of that, and argues that Heello will have services and features that make it a viable competitor to Twitter. The first of those resembles Google+ Circles: closed distribution lists that enable one to share posts with a subset of followers, but others are promised.

Everett set up Heello, as a company, last year, but launched the service last week – a day after Twitter started hosting pictures itself.

Until now, anyone wanting to share a picture over Twitter had to post a URL to a hosting service, with Twitpic being one of the more popular services and bringing in a decent living to Everett by displaying advertisements around the images. But last week Twitter itself started hosting photographs, pulling the business model out from under Twitpic and other companies that were providing similar services.

Heello, unsurprisingly, also has a picture-sharing service built in, but other than that the differences are hard to spot: Heello puts the profile on the left (while Twitter puts it on the right), and Heello has a picture of a cloud in the background, but take a look at Heello's Twitter feed and it's hard to tell where you are.

In social networking the barriers to entry are almost insurmountable, as Google has repeatedly demonstrated, but incumbents do tend to become moribund when competition is lacking. In China, where the government's ban on Twitter has created a competitive field, the different services innovate continuously to compete: image uploading and closed lists are old news on the other side of the Chinese Firewall.

Google's Circles and ability to mute specific subjects are both welcome innovations in social networks, and will no doubt come to Facebook very soon, just as Heello's lists will be implemented on Twitter in time. Competitors might not succeed, but they can push the incumbent to do something more interesting, and that's to be welcomed, even if the business appears (from the outside) to be ill-founded. ®

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