Now that the World Cup is drawing to a close we can consider one of the most notable advances that the competition heralded and it’s not the Vuvuzela or the highly unpredictable Jubulani.
When it all kicked off in South Africa, twitter users discovered a subtle new feature alongside certain hashtags in their twitter streams. World cup related tags generated tiny icons after the tag; there were national flags for any tweet using a three letter tag for any of the participating countries and a tiny football for anyone typing the hashtag #worldcup .
This is far more than just a bit of fun. Twitter has unlocked an unobtrusive way of commercializing the twitter stream. Each of these icons or annotations as they are described by Twitter has an embedded link. For the world cup it takes you to a fairly anodyne aggregation of tweets albeit in a nicely designed page but these linked icons could take you anywhere and they could be ascribed to any hashtag or keyword on twitter.
At the moment the annotations just appear on twitter.com but they will start to be included in the API which means they will appear in our favourite twitter clients. What we are about to see is a deluge of paid for links that might be used to sell music, promote TV shows and sports events, all without polluting the stream. Back of the net.