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Is Twitter aiming at Facebook Connect?

With its @Anywhere technology launched as part of SXSWi, Twitter is trying to make its presence spread even further across the Web.

AUSTIN, Texas--Some were wondering if Twitter's big Monday announcement at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi) would be an attempt to one-up Google in search ads. But, no: With its new @Anywhere technology, the company's real target may be Facebook's successful Facebook Connect.

The Twitter announcement was part of a talk by CEO Evan Williams that was, well, a bit vanilla. But people are excited by @Anywhere, which will be debuting soon on third-party partners like The New York Times, eBay, and Amazon. Though a lot of the details aren't yet clear, the basic explanation is that Twitter content will soon be accessible through third-party sites in a much deeper form.

When Facebook unveiled Facebook Connect nearly two years ago, the company pitched it as a way for users and Web publishers to experience a more seamless registration and log-in process as well as to be able to share their activities from across the Web with their friends. But the subtext was clear: it would put Facebook's product everywhere across the Web. Slightly over a year later, 80,000 third-party sites were using it.

Third-party reactions agreed that the philosophies between Facebook Connect and Twitter's @Anywhere are similar: both aim for ubiquity. "Twitter continues to defy expectations--@Anywhere may create a means for advertising, but that is not its purpose," a statement by Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray read. "Instead, @Anywhere will further cement Twitter's place as the place where information is shared and discovered in real time. The name they've chosen is an obvious sign of what Twitter has in mind: They intend to be anywhere you are."

There may be a crucial difference between the two, though: Facebook Connect is free for third-party sites to use. Twitter has been hush-hush about the financial specifics of @Anywhere, but Williams described last year's search-deal partners Google and Bing as "a couple of the first guys that we shared our full stream of public Twitter data with," implying that the groundwork for @Anywhere may be similar. Those Google and Bing search deals were paid agreements, and while details were not disclosed, one BusinessWeek report suggested that the price tag was high enough to make Twitter a profitable company last year. So there's a chance that Twitter will charge for access to @Anywhere, at least for companies using it on a huge scale.

Facebook Connect and @Anywhere probably aren't mutually exclusive. But with the debut of @Anywhere, Twitter may be giving Facebook some serious hints: the massive social network may be bigger, but it's far from the only way for media outlets and big Web sites to tap into the social-media crowd chatter.