Twitter CEO Evan Williams announced a new feature Monday that will allow Web sites to integrate Twitter services and create communities of Twitter users.
The feature, called @Anywhere, will debut on 13 sites, including The New York Times, Amazon.com and The Huffington Post.
Speaking at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference, Williams said the goal is for people to spend less time on Twitter.com and more exploring the online world with Twitter integrated into other Web sites and services.
Twitter fans applauded the new application virtually, in a string of tweets.
But many had expected much bigger news: the unveiling of Twitter's advertising platform, which the company had hinted it would announce around the time of SXSW.
And dozens of people walked out early from Williams' keynote appearance at the Austin Convention Center, saying they had expected more from one of the conference's most anticipated sessions.
Williams mentioned the new feature at the start of the session, but his interviewer, Umair Haque, moved quickly to other topics, and Williams did not take questions at the end.
Slava Rubin, one of the founders of startup IndieGoGo, who drove from Miami to attend the conference, called the keynote "borderline terrible."
"I thought that they were going to talk about either his experiences or advice from an entrepreneur, or the guts and glory of Twitter. It felt very superficial, a lot of softballs," Rubin said. "Twitter is so dynamic and has so much information and is so concise and offers so much stimulation. u2026 The things that were covered were the exact opposite of that."
Another commenter said Williams "should have kept the Monday keynote to 140 characters," the limit for a tweet.
Writers on tech blog sites such as TechCrunch and CNET and the Gawker media site also weighed in with critical comments. Several bloggers noted the parallel with 2008, when people used Twitter to criticize an interview of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg by Business Week columnist Sarah Lacy.
Since 2006, Twitter has grown from a startup to a powerful social networking site whose users post about 50 million messages daily, Williams said.
Since the free service launched, the tech world has speculated about how Twitter would translate its millions of users into revenue. Last year, it drew an estimated $25 million by licensing its platform to companies including Microsoft and Google.
Twitter has said it's working on an advertising platform, and users are curious about how it will work and what it will look like.
Williams didn't answer those questions Monday, and Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab, didn't raise them.
In an interview with Bloomberg News after his appearance, Williams said the new feature is "not directly a revenue play, but it could relate to that eventually."
Analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates said allowing other Web sites to display Twitter content "is a pretty smart idea. It extends Twitter's reach, and it allows publishers like The New York Times to enhance their content.
"The question is, how valuable will people perceive Twitter to be? Some people are falling head over heels over Twitter, but I have a little more jaundiced view. I believe a lot of social networking tools will come and go, and whether Twitter becomes some kind of universal means of communication remains to be seen."
Twitter is tied to SXSW Interactive's own growth. Twitter made its first public push at SXSW Interactive in 2007 and made headway with early tech adopters.
Hundreds of startup companies have come to SXSW Interactive in hopes of being crowned the next Twitter. Attendance at this year's interactive festival, which ends tonight, is expected to eclipse the music portion of SXSW for the first time. Organizers have said attendance could climb as much as 40 percent over 2009, when about 11,200 attended the interactive fest.
The most buzzed-about topics this year have been Apple's forthcoming iPad device, how mainstream media are adapting to social media and crowdsourcing, and location-based services like Foursquare and Austin-based Gowalla Inc.
Additional material from staff writer Lori Hawkins and Bloomberg News.