Unless you've been living in a cave, you've heard of Twitter. What you probably haven't heard is how the company plans to make money -- not even reporters covering the company have heard an coherent explanation for that. But now, with the completion of two deals, Twitter looks poised to see the bucks start to roll in -- and make all the critics who called Twitter a stupid fad eat their words.
On Wednesday, Twitter inked deals with both Microsoft and Google to index tweets, those 140-words-or-less pearls of wisdom that emanate from the minds of its users. The term of the deals were not disclosed, but Twitter CEO Evan Williams was quoted as saying that revenue was "not the focus of these deals."
Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president for search and user experience -- and general product majordomo -- said that gaining access to Twitter's ever-flowing stream of real-time data would "improve our relevance, our comprehensiveness and our quality.
"We believe that our search results and user experience will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this up-to-the-minute data, and we look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months," Mayer said in a blog post. "That way, the next time you search for something that can be aided by a real-time observation, say, snow conditions at your favorite ski resort, you'll find tweets from other users who are there and sharing the latest and greatest information."
The twin deals are just the latest evidence of Twitter's transition from flavor of the month start-up to potentially global communications catalyst, and highlight the intense and growing interest in the so-called real-time web, a term supposed to refer to proliferation of services that engage users in the moment and offer up to the minute data.
"Innovative services like Twitter give us access to public opinion and thoughts in a way that has not before been possible," Microsoft's Paul Yiu said in a blog post. "From important social and political issues to keeping friends up to date on the minute-by-minute of our daily lives, the web is getting more and more real time."
For many people, the $64,000 question -- for Twitter it's more likely the $64 million question -- is whether ads will appear either on Twitter or on the search results page offered by Microsoft and Google. Twitter, wary of alienating its loyal user base, is very hesitant. Likewise, Microsoft says no, but Google has hinted that search ads may end up next to Twitter search results. And why not? That's Google's business.
Williams said neither pact precluded Twitter from striking deals with other companies. "A core of our philosophy has always been that Twitter is a distributed network and there's multiple in points and out points that serve different users and different uses," he told The New York Times.
Twitter announced the deals at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, amid a flurry of internet deal-making activity.
In a separate announcement, Microsoft said it would begin indexing Facebook status updates in the results of its new search engine, Bing, within the next few months. Microsoft owns a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook, for which it paid a whopping $240 million in 2007. "We are bringing you the best of real time right into the Web results," Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president for Microsoft's online audience business group, told the conference.
Google, the internet juggernaut, holds a commanding lead in web searches. For September, Google's market share was 64.9 percent, according to comScore. Yahoo came in second with 18.8 percent, while Microsoft lagged with 9.4 percent.
Follow Sam Gustin, a reporter for DailyFinance, on Twitter here. Follow DailyFinance's tech coverage here.
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