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Twitter Tweaks SMS Service for Convenience, Plans Tweet “Button” for Blogs

Twitter’s taking another few steps to expand its services, making it way more convenient (even more than Facebook, which is surely its target). Is it screwing its third-party developers while doing so, though?

tweet button

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Twitter’s always advanced in carefully managed steps — co-opting existing ways its customers use its service into “official” versions (like the retweet system), or incrementally adding new ones. Surprises are rare.

But now it’s dropping a more convenient SMS-based systems in the U.S. and, maybe unintentionally, offering a glimpse at the entire future of Twitter. Plus, there are strong rumors it’ll be coming out with an official tweet button, destined to make it easier to share stories you’ve found online via Twitter’s status updates.

Twitter’s official blog has an announcement about the improved SMS service (long a standard way many Americans interact with Twitter, and one reason tweets are 140 characters long), and the biggest change is the new “Fast Follow” system, which ironically isn’t a “follow” in the normal sense. That’s because you don’t have to be a Twitter user to use it–Fast Following someone via SMS doesn’t necessarily associate another user’s feed with your own stream: All you do is SMS “follow USERNAME” to 40404, and when the person you’ve chosen to “follow” sends a status update, it’ll ping back to your phone. Twitter’s example is the New York City Office of Emergency Management.

To add to this whole new service, Twitter’s also drawing attention to its “SMS follow” button on its website, which lets you do something similar to the direct SMS system, as well as how to quiet the service, or merely request the latest tweet from a particular user. The emphasis here is definitely on tweaking Twitter’s user-convenience levels.

Meanwhile Mashable has obtained documents that suggest we’ll soon see an official tweet “button” for embedding on your own website or blog story that’ll tweet out the URL automatically when you press it. It’s from a source that’s reliable enough for Mashable to proclaim the new system’s existence, and even to suggest it may arrive as soon as tomorrow. The button has all the code behind it to also display how many times the story has been retweeted (a recent and useful measure of a blog posting’s popularity) and no doubt makes the most of Twitter’s recent switch to its own “official” URL shortening service.

It’s also intended to make Twitter more convenient for the millions of folk who use Twitter as a website sharing system. But, like other official Twitter tweaks of late, it completely stabs an existing third party developer in the back–Tweetmeme in this case. That’s because Tweetmeme’s already got a button that does much of this, utilizing Twitter’s own API in a totally official and permissible way. Twitter’s official button will almost certainly zap all of Tweetmeme’s business.

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Twitter really is intent on pushing on, and where there’s a good idea for how to use its systems that’s seeing widespread adoption, Twitter’s happy to take that code on board all for itself (and presumably it’s checked the legal position to ensure it’s not totally “stealing” systems like Tweetmeme). And as far as its Fast Follow service is concerned, here we can glimpse a big change coming in Twitter’s future: One where Twitter’s data stream is promoted as a dynamic and useful information service all of its own–half news-breaking, half relevant-info sharing. In this sense, it’s data stream would seem more full of useful data than Facebook’s inanities, and more easily accessible than Googling for something.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.

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