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Translation, mobile simplicity coming to Twitter

Twitter CEO says translation is one initiative to reach goal of making Twitter easier to use and more similar on different platforms.

Chief Executive Dick Costolo
Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo Stephen Shankland/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--To make Twitter easier to use for everyone and similar across platforms the company is aiming for tighter integration with phone services and launching translation tools, Chief Executive Dick Costolo said during his keynote at the Mobile World Congress 2011 here.

The company is launching a "crowd sourced" translation center for Russian, Indonesian and Turkish and later this year will be offering its own Portuguese translations, he said.

The service is already popular among many mobile users, providing first photos for news events like the US Airways jet crash landing in the Hudson River two years ago, and unique perspectives like Spanish soccer star Carles Puyol sending a photo via TwitPic while participating in the national parade.

Showing Puyol's photo on the screen" behind him, Costolo said "This tweet to me is a metaphor for what all of us in this room are trying to do" - - enable users to create experiences for each other instead of companies creating the experiences for the users.

At the mobile event, in particular, Twitter is focusing on making using the service similar on different platforms.

"Twitter already works on almost everything you're going to hear about this week. From the highest bandwidth, high-touch most elegant interface to the most inexpensive cell phone carrying only SMS," he said. "I shouldn't have to think about how I use Twitter" when switching devices.

Another goal for the company is to make the service simpler to use than it is now, regardless of the platform. For instance, when a photo is taken on a mobile device a user shouldn't have to open a separate platform to post it to, Costolo said. The company also wants to be instantly usable for everyone and retain users even if they don't follow a lot of people, he added.

Asked to elaborate during a question-and-answer session, Costolo said that the Android integration allows a user to tweet a photo. But "what I would like are more single sign-on experiences, the ability to tweet from the browser," he said. "Those kinds of integrations that remove" complexity.

Twitter is not merely a microblogging site, but a place where people connect with each other in profound ways that are distinctly social and on a large scale, such as 6,000 tweets sent per second right after midnight on New Year's Eve in Tokyo. The company's mission is to connect people everywhere to what is most meaningful to them, he said.

Ninety-nine percent of tweets in the system have some social context, while 40 percent are made from mobile devices, and 50 percent of the users are active on more than one platform, according to Costolo.

During the question-and-answer session, Costolo was asked what the company's biggest fear is and what its biggest mistake has been. The biggest fear is lack of execution, he said. The service is handling more than 130 million tweets per day, "so growth is not an issue; we just need to execute."

As for the biggest mistake, the founders would all agree that would be not initially hiring employees fast enough or scaling quickly enough, he said. A 350-person company doesn't have the resources of a larger company, he said.

Asked to comment on rumors that Google would consider buying the company for $10 billion, Costolo said "people write that stuff down all the time," but it is "just rumor."

Meanwhile, the company will have news later this year about enabling more geographic specificity in its Trends product, he said.

Asked what the company can do to help people using Arabic and other languages in areas where there has been recent unrest like Tunisia and Egypt, Costolo said: "We don't support right-to-left languages yet and we need to do that... (We're) trying to get short codes up and running for Twitter via SMS" for countries in the Middle East and North Africa.