Twitter is selling the rights to mine its communications hotbed to both Internet search leader Google and Microsoft in dueling deals that underscore the growing importance of being able to show what's on people's minds at any given moment.
The announcements made Wednesday within a three-hour span also represent the latest bit of gamesmanship between two of technology's fiercest — and most powerful — rivals.
Microsoft seemed to have seized the upper hand in the information arms race when its top Internet executive, Qu Li, took the stage at a technology conference in San Francisco. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
Li used the platform to declare Microsoft's search engine, Bing, would become the best way outside of Twitter's own Web site to find out what people are saying in their Twitter messages, or "tweets."
The messages, consisting of no more than 140 characters, can be posted from Internet-connected computers or mobile devices, enabling people to share mundane details about their lives or intriguing news and commentary from all over the world.
Money details not disclosed
It's real-time information that it didn't look like Google's search engine would be able to provide — the kind of competitive advantage that Microsoft has been seeking while investing billions of dollars in what so far has been a fruitless effort to narrow Google's huge lead in Internet search.
Refusing to be upstaged, Google revealed on its blog that its search engine has secured the tweeting rights, too.
Neither Microsoft nor Google would disclose how much it is paying for the rights to index the millions of public updates distributed by Twitter each day. The data is considered to be among Twitter's most valuable assets, raising the possibility that the Google and Microsoft deals will result in the first meaningful revenue for the San Francisco-based startup since its 2006 inception.
"There is a revenue component ... but we've yet to see how significant that will be," Twitter Chief Executive Evan Williams wrote in a Wednesday e-mail to The Associated Press.
Microsoft has a head start in blending Twitter's feed into Bing's search results. A test version of Bing's Twitter feature debuted Wednesday shortly after the announcement.
Google still isn't indexing and displaying all the tweets, although that will happen soon, said Marissa Mayer, a Google executive in charge of search products and user experience. She left little doubt that Google's search engine would become less useful without the Twitter access, especially when people are trying to get updates about an event that just happened.
"You have to have the answers in order to return them to your users," Mayer said. "That's why a deal like this is so important. It allows us to find answers we couldn't previously have found."
Some Facebook updates to be indexed
Microsoft will offer another way to probe into the collective mindset by indexing a portion of the personal updates posted on Facebook — an online hangout with more than 300 million active users around the world. That's about six times the size of Twitter's global audience, but more Facebook users restrict who can see their updates than Twitter users do.
Facebook is only giving Bing access to the updates that its users choose to share with everyone, according to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer. It's unclear when the Facebook updates will begin showing up in Bing's search results.
Palo Alto-based Facebook already has a business relationship with Microsoft, which provides Facebook's search results. Microsoft spent $240 million two years ago to acquire a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook.
Google, on the other hand, has a prickly relationship with Facebook, which has lured away many of its employees, including Sandberg.
Meanwhile, Twitter's growing popularity has emerged as a potential problem for Facebook. Their rivalry has intensified since Twitter rejected Facebook's attempt to buy the service last year.
While Facebook expects bring in more than $500 million from selling ads and other services this year, Twitter hasn't been trying to generate revenue until now. Twitter is possibly under more pressure to start making money because a group of investors just poured $100 million into the company and will be looking for returns. The deal valued Twitter at about $1 billion.
In internal company documents leaked on the Internet earlier this summer, Twitter projected it would have $140 million in revenue next year.