SAN FRANCISCO -- Internet start-up Twitter is taking a much-anticipated first-step in its quest to parlay its popularity into revenue by offering certain customers an expanded range of services.
The company is preparing to offer commercial accounts in which corporations and other types of businesses pay a fee to receive an enhanced version of Twitter, a free service that allows people to send short, 140-character text messages to their network of friends.
"We think there will be opportunities to provide services to commercial entities that help them get even more value out of Twitter. If these services are valuable to companies, we think they may want to pay for them," Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, said in an e-mail sent to Reuters.
San Francisco, California-based Twitter has enjoyed a surge in popularity since its creation three years ago, despite the fact that the company has yet to make any money. According to Nielsen Online, which measures Internet traffic, Twitter's Web site had more than 7 million unique visitors in February, compared to 475,000 in February 2008.
Last year, the company turned down a $500 million acquisition offer by social networking powerhouse Facebook. And some observers have speculated that Google Inc might have its eye on Twitter, because of Twitter's so-called real time search capabilities.
Twitter recently closed a round of venture capital financing pegged at $35 million by media reports, following two earlier funding rounds totaling $20 million.
While Twitter initially planned to begin seeking revenue in 2010, the company recently decided to accelerate the schedule and find ways to monetize its service this year.
On Monday, Microsoft Corp and online marketing firm Federated Media rolled out a special Website dubbed ExecTweets that allows individuals to monitor Twitter messages of business executives.
Stone said Twitter has just hired someone to work on creating commercial products. He would not say when Twitter's commercial accounts product is set to be introduced, but said it would be sometime in 2009.
"We have lots of time for experimentation with regard to revenue generation, so we'll probably be trying a few different things this year," said Stone.
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