Twitter courts developers with new tools

The company has added 'places' to let users name the venue of their tweets

Twitter is promising new tools for developers to help them make better use of the 55 million tweets being pumped out every day by people who use its service.

The new capabilities, discussed in San Francisco at Chirp, the company's first-ever developer conference, are designed to help with creating new applications that can organize the information generated by Twitter in more useful ways.

First up, Twitter is starting to add "places" to its geo-location capabilities. Twitter can already add coordinates for latitude and longitude to tweets, and it recently added cities and neighborhoods too. With "places" it will let users add the name of a specific venue to their tweets, such as a sports arena or a theater. If there's a big concert happening at Madison Square Garden, for example, people will be able to search for tweets from that specific location.

Twitter is still a small company, however, and it hasn't been able to add as much of this metadata as it wants to. "We've been locked down by our team's ability to scale the database," said Ryan Sarver, Twitter's platform director, who gave a talk about what's coming up on Twitter's road map.

To that end, he said developers will soon be able to create their own metadata categories. That could allow a developer to build an application that sorts tweets about a particular business, politician, athlete, or virtually any other topic.

The company is also making it easier for desktop applications like TweetDeck to access streams of user data in real time, such as a person's retweets and favorite tweets. It has also built a new developer Web site that will launch later on Wednesday, at dev.twitter.com.

Twitter's leaders here were eager to emphasize how important developers are to its success. It is vital that they get that message across, particularly as some developers have been worrying that Twitter is starting to compete with them by building its own applications.

"Twitter is the way it is because of the ecosystem; our successes are intrinsically linked," Sarver said.

Three-quarters of the company's traffic comes through third-party applications like TweetDeck, Seismic and Cadmus, he said, and those applications account for 60 percent of all tweets sent. Developers have now registered 100,000 third-party applications, up from 50,000 just five months ago.

Emmanuel Job, a software engineer with online media company Glam Media, said he didn't feel a great deal more confident after hearing Sarver's speech than he did beforehand. Twitter isn't competing with his own company yet, but the new "places" feature will be a threat to companies like FourSquare and Gowalla, he said.

"I was hoping to get a bit more of a long-term view about where they are going, but I don't think they know themselves where they are going yet," Job said.

Sarver admitted as much in his presentation. "One of the big things I hear from developers is that they want more certainty from us, they want to know where we're going," he said.

But the world around Twitter is changing so fast that it's hard for the company to give a road map that stretches out "three, six or nine months from now," he said. "But as much as possible we want to be as consistent as we can."

Aaron Gotwalt was more sanguine. He founded CoTweet, a workflow application that helps teams of people at big-brand companies manage and track their presence on Twitter. He was invited to give a talk here on how developers can take advantage of Twitter to build a business.

Eighteen months ago, he said, he had quit his previous job and was borrowing money from his grandmother to get his company off the ground. Now his company has been acquired, by ExactTarget. "There's enormous revenue potential in this market if you can understand your customer and build something they actually want," he said.

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