Twitter is partnering with a Singapore startup to offer access to users without data-enabled smartphones. Feature phones can access Twitter through menu-driven USSD codes.
Twitter is making an effort to expand its reach by offering the ability to read updates and post tweets from mobile phones that do not support data. Reuters reports that this will be done in partnership with a Singapore startup called U2opia, which already has similar deals with Facebook and other Internet service providers. Currently, U2opia’s Fonetwish service works with Google Talk and Facebook.
Support for non-data enabled mobile phones will come in the form of USSD codes — which stand for Unstructured Supplementary Services Data. With this service, users will need to key in codes (which start in * and end in #) to get a menu of services, through which information can be accessed. This includes getting a list of popular or trending topics on Twitter, as well as entering their own updates.
Sumesh Menon, co-founder and CEO at U2opia, says that the company’s service is a good fit for Twitter, particularly with its text-driven nature. “USSD as a vehicle for Twitter is almost hand in glove because Twitter has by design a character limit, it’s a very text-driven social network.”
Menon cited mobile usage figures, adding that about 80 percent of mobile users worldwide are still using feature phones, which do not have Internet access. This is especially the case in emerging economies, which are the primary target of the startup.
U2opia currently has partnerships with carriers in 30 countries and supports seven international languages. Menon says Twitter access will go beyond being able to read trending topics and updates. Content will also be localized to ensure that international users will get whichever tweets are relevant to them, in terms of content and language.
Menon says that feature phone access to Twitter will be the “first Twitter experience” for many users in these emerging markets. Currently, U2opia’s 11 million clients accessing Google Talk and Facebook are mostly located in Asia, South America and Africa spanning telecom providers like Vodafone, Telenor and Bharti Airtel Ltd.