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Does Twitter mean business with 'Contributors' test?

Twitter is launching a small test of a new business-oriented feature called "Contributors." Might this signal the impending launch of Twitter business accounts?

One of the hottest use cases for Twitter, as you well know, is businesses communicating with their customers or potential customers. Up to this point, Twitter really has not introduced any new features to support these business users, but as a part of an initiative to roll out more business-specific features, Twitter on Monday introduced "Contributors." Contributors allows business accounts to designate other Twitter users, usually employees or PR, to tweet on their behalf. Twitter is currently testing this with "a limited subset of folks."

Twitter's new "Contributors" feature. Twitter Blog

The screenshot above is what this new feature will look like, according to Twitter's blog. Tweets will still appear as coming from the business' Twitter account but will have a byline that credits the author of the tweet. This will help to put some more personal faces behind the generally faceless business Twitter accounts.

As far as we can tell, however, this will not be required for Twitter business accounts, so if you run a business that wants to keep its tweeters anonymous, you can still do that. Twitter does note that this feature is "not ready for prime time" yet, so the functionality could change around a little, but expect it to stay generally the same.

It's worth mentioning that there are a couple of business and power user-oriented Twitter apps out there right now, specifically CoTweet and HootSuite. This added Contributor functionality will be incorporated into Twitter's API, so these third-party apps should be able to support it as well. This new feature should play nicely with CoTweet and HootSuite's current offerings.

Up to this point, Twitter business accounts have had the same functionality as personal accounts. While it's not clear whether personal accounts will get the new Contributor feature, the release of this and the other business-oriented features that Twitter currently has in development might be a sign that the release of Twitter business accounts is imminent.

In August, Biz Stone said that Twitter would be offering business or "pro" accounts by the end of the year. Paid accounts for businesses has long been a rumored business model for Twitter and it looks like we are on the verge of seeing that come to fruition. While Twitter is running out of days in 2009, it appears that it is making some progress toward the eventual release of full-blown business accounts. Whether Contributors will be included in the paid offering is unknown, although some users might resent Twitter for charging for it after offering it for free initially.