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June 20, 2011

Twitter, twitter the little bird is getting bigger!

Ah, Twitter. Some people still scoff at the supposed mundanity of many tweeters and the site’s alleged lack of visual excitement when compared to Facebook, but the San Francisco-based service is now five years old and has attracted a very impressive user base in that time – currently in the region of 200 million users.

photoAnd if recent news is anything to go by, that user base will only get bigger. Earlier this month, tech giant Apple announced that Twitter would be deeply integrated into iOS5, the next version of its mobile and tablet PC operating system. When it is launched this autumn, iOS 5 users will be able to tweet directly from several built-in apps, including Photos, YouTube, Safari and Maps.

Currently, iPhone and iPad users must open either the Twitter app, or the Twitter website in the Safari browser, and pull in any content they wish to tweet from there – for example, photos or videos.

Given the huge, multinational popularity of the iPhone and iPad, the launch of iOS5 will almost certainly lead to a further dramatic spike in the Twitter user base. So why did Apple – which has gone from the edge of bankruptcy in the mid-1990s to the world’s most valuable brand in little more than 15 years – choose Twitter for this coronation, not global leader Facebook?

According to Joe Wilcox, writing on technology site betanews, the decision may be down to Apple and Facebook having different priorities. Facebook is, he writes, intensely focused on pulling user content into the ‘cloud’, pushing related advertising there – and, of course, making it difficult for users to pull that content back out. Apple, by contrast, still makes the majority of its profits from hardware sales rather than software, and so prefers user content to flow freely between devices.

Facebook is also, in one sense, a web (or cloud) based operating system, and one for which software developers can write applications. Some of these have proved enormously popular (yes, Farmville, I’m looking at you!). You don’t need a degree in business studies to see Facebook apps as direct competition to Apple’s iOS and Mac OS app stores.

We saw a glimpse of such conflicts of interest in September last year, when Apple launched Ping, a poorly received social network focused on music which was integrated into its iTunes jukebox software. At its launch, Apple CEO Steve Jobs publicly demonstrated Ping’s various features, including Facebook integration. But to the disappointment of many, the latter feature was almost immediately removed.

A subsequent investigation by Wall Street Journal columnist Kara Swisher revealed that Facebook and Apple had failed to reach agreement on Ping integration, because, to quote Steve Jobs, the social network had demanded "onerous terms that we could not agree to." So, of course, Apple launched Ping with unauthorized Facebook integration, and this was, predictably, quickly blocked by the site!

Meanwhile, app hype aside, a great number of tweeters still use the Twitter website to broadcast to the world – at least some of the time! With them in mind, Twitter recently announced two new website features: improved search results and integrated photo hosting. That latter will mean photographs can be attached directly to tweets without the sometimes use of third party sites like Twitpic.

It seems we’ve come a very long way since the first ever tweet, sent on 21 March 2006 by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. Wondering what this momentous pronouncement was? “Just setting up my twttr”. Prophetic words!

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