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Twitter CEO unveils '@Anywhere' platform

The company's big announcement at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival was its new way to integrate Twitter data into partner sites.

Twitter CEO Evan Williams (right) in his keynote interview at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival on Monday. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

AUSTIN, Texas--Twitter CEO Evan Williams took no time in getting to the juicy part of his keynote address at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival on Monday afternoon. He announced the "@Anywhere" platform, a way to pull Twitter links and data onto partner sites and media outlets.

A brief demo of @Anywhere showed off "hovercards" that bring up Twitter information with a mouse-over, let readers or users connect with their Twitter accounts much like Facebook Connect, or explore more specific possibilities, like instantly following a newspaper columnist's Twitter account by clicking on his or her byline.

The placeholder Twitter account '@anywhere.'

"Discovery is one of the hardest challenges," Williams said. "It's putting these in context where you're already aware of them...Twitter is a very easy way to keep in touch." The company has 13 launch partners, including Digg, The New York Times,, eBay, Amazon, and Bing. As Williams describes it, "it's not an ad platform, it's an '@' platform," referring to the syntax of using the '@' symbol to denote communication between individual Twitter users.

While Williams was still speaking, a post went live on the Twitter blog about @Anywhere, describing the technology as "a new set of frameworks for adding this Twitter experience anywhere on the Web. Soon, sites many of us visit every day will be able to recreate these open, engaging interactions providing a new layer of value for visitors without sending them to" Indeed, a philosophy similar to Facebook Connect.

Williams was interviewed onstage by Umair Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab, in what was arguably the most highly anticipated event of the SXSWi lineup. A massive event hall at the Austin Convention Center was filled to capacity, with a line snaking through the hallways half an hour before the talk was scheduled to begin.

It was a quick demonstration. And the Twitter CEO was sketchy about the details of how @Anywhere will make money, though there are some guesses that big partners will have to pay up for access to the "firehose," much like its search deals with Twitter and Bing that were announced late last year. Williams described those as "a couple of the first guys that we shared our full stream of public Twitter data with."

There are 50 million Twitter "tweets" posted every day, Williams said.

"Inevitably, it's going to take experimentation," Williams said of how the business side of @Anywhere will evolve. "Google started out thinking that they were going to sell search services."

A report circulated last month that Twitter was gearing up to launch an ad platform in conjunction with SXSWi, stemming from comments that the company's head of product management made in a conference panel. Company executives had heretofore been ambivalent as to whether they would start rolling out ads any time soon--or ever.

SXSWi is more or less Twitter's birthplace: the company made its debut there in 2007, and became an instant sensation with the early-adopter geek crowd. It took about two more years before it could be deemed a legitimate, mainstream sensation, but SXSWi is its home turf.

Williams says that @Anywhere taps into Twitter's deepest values of openness and transparency. "A window is transparent, but a door is open," he said. "A door lets people come in and mess with what you're doing."

From the start, Twitter has had an extensive set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that have led to a colorful array of third-party developer apps. "Openness is really a survivor technique," Williams said. "It's being open to the idea that you are wrong, and that other people probably have some good ideas."

This post was last updated at 12:41 p.m. PDT.