Twitter Overhauls Website as Ad Billions Remain Elusive

Twitter, the microblogging phenom turned worldwide sensation, announced an overhaul of its website Tuesday evening designed to integrate photos, videos and other media while maintaining the familiar constant "stream" of updates.

The move is the most dramatic redesign in Twitter's short history, but it also signals that Twitter is beginning to get serious about making money from the millions of people who use it daily. The company said it now handles some 90 million tweets per day and averages a whopping 370,000 new account sign-ups per day.

During a presentation Tuesday evening, Twitter CEO Evan Williams said the company is "excited" about the commercial potential of the redesign but declined to go into specifics. TechCrunch had a good summary of his comments.

A Two-Paned Screen For Photos, Videos

Williams said that while many people access Twitter through third-party applications like Seesmic and TweetDeck, over half of all tweets come from the homepage itself. He said Twitter employees had been experimenting internally with the new home page for months.

"You'll see the familiar timeline, yet underneath each Tweet is a handful of information, deeper context and even embedded media," Williams wrote in a blog post announcing the overhaul. "Simply click on an individual Tweet and a details pane slides out on the right and reveals this content."

Williams said the company has struck deals with 16 Web media companies including Google's (GOOG) YouTube and Yahoo's (YHOO) Flickr to integrate photos, videos and other media into the new panel of the site.

Explosive Growth, Now Where's the Revenue?

Twitter's growth over the last year has been nothing short of explosive. Last October, the company, which is backed by $160 million in venture capital from Union Square Ventures and others, struck deals with Google and Microsoft to index tweets, bringing a new level of immediacy to Web search.

In terms of sheer growth, Twitter's performance is reminiscent of the exponential growth of social networking giant Facebook, and search titan Google before it. Google, of course, generates $20 billion in sales annually, and Facebook is just now cracking the billion-dollar sales mark. Twitter, and its investors, are clearly looking for those kinds of numbers.

Sponsored Links

The big question for Twitter remains how to make money from its millions of daily users, chirping about everything from what they had for lunch to world affairs. The company has been wary of plastering Web ads on its homepage for fear of alienating its user base, which has grown accustomed to its ad-free appearance.

To date, Twitter has begun earning revenue via "sponsored tweets" from companies, as well as simple, relatively innocuous link ads. But as Bloomberg's Brad Stone tweeted during the announcement, "thought: a richer right-hand sidebar on will give Twitter plenty of new real estate to serve up ads..."

Indeed, but advertising didn't come up much during Williams's presentation. He did say Twitter hasn't showed the new design to advertisers yet, but the company is "excited" about its commercial potential and hopes marketers will be as well.
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