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Twitter’s ‘Zero’ Service Lets Emerging Markets Tweet For Free

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Mobile carriers around the world are touting their involvement in a program called “Twitter Zero,” but that’s not its real name. 

In 2010, Facebook revealed an initiative designed to give it a foothold in emerging markets called Facebook Zero. The idea is that consumers in select markets could browse a stripped down version of Facebook on mobile phones via the URL 0.facebook.com without incurring data charges (also known as “zero-rated” data, hence the name.) As it turns out, Twitter has been following in Facebook’s footsteps here, with its own “Twitter Zero”-like service called “Twitter Access.” That program has picked up over the past year, and has now grown to include “under 100″ total deals with mobile operators, we understand.

A number of mobile carriers have been touting their involvement with this program in recent months, like Uzbek mobile operator Ucell’s announcement of Twitter Zero, Pakistan’s Mobilink’s support for Twitter Zero, a similar program from Reliance Communications in India, and most recently, Nepal’s Ncell’s launch of Twitter Zero, to name just a few. Twitter’s website also touts other partners, including Vodafone, Smart (Philippines), XL Axiata (Indonesia), and Turkcell.

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Twitter Access is not exactly new, but it has received little attention by Western media, which is why we were sort of scratching our heads around here when we saw an announcement of yet another “Twitter Zero” launch this week.

Twitter Zero? Is that a thing?

What’s funny  about “Twitter Zero,” is that Twitter itself isn’t officially calling the program that – it’s called “Twitter Access” internally and on its public-facing website. But the mobile operators have unilaterally decided they prefer the name “Twitter Zero” instead, it seems. Meanwhile, the URL 0.twitter.com today redirects to mobile.twitter.com, but unlike with the Facebook Zero initiative, mobile consumers don’t have to use that URL in order to access the free, customized version of Twitter.

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Twitter Access (or Zero, if you prefer, I suppose) was first kicked off in 2012. It was also referenced – though not by name – as being a part of Twitter’s international strategy in a December article on AllThingsD. That post didn’t just focus on this customized, zero-rated Twitter, however, but pointed to a number of things Twitter has in the works to grow its overseas user base, including also carrier preloads and even deals with carriers that would help deliver Twitter messages to low-end phones without data connections.

How It Zero-Rated Works

This zero-rated Twitter program varies a bit, on an operator by operator basis, but the general gist of it is that it’s designed for feature phones, and involves the operator removing the mobile data charges for a limited time. This exact time frame may vary, but seems to be a few months (i.e. 90 days), from what we’ve seen. That’s a bit different from Facebook Zero, which only charges Facebook Zero users when they click to view photos or browse to another mobile site off of 0.facebook.com.

TwitterZeropromo

During the campaign period, Twitter Access works this way, too. Users are able to browse the Twitter mobile website at mobile.twitter.com without incurring data charges. If they decide to download media or click a link, an interstitial appears, reminding users that standard data charges will apply. But in general, users can read tweets, respond, favorite, and scroll through the mobile Twitter website.

As for why Twitter is only free for a limited period of time in these emerging markets where the Twitter Access program goes live, that may be because Twitter itself, in some cases at least, is helping to cover those data charges. (Twitter declined to comment on this when asked.)

Emerging Market Growth

We had actually heard that Twitter has some 300 Twitter Zero deals underway, but that number seems to be referencing all of Twitter’s operator partnerships, we now understand, including the preloads and deals that allow for Twitter to work over SMS on phones without data plans.

It’s notable that this Twitter Access/Zero program has today climbed into the double-digits in terms of partnership deals, given that a large part of Twitter’s future user growth is expected to come from the Asia-Pacific region.

According to a report from a couple of days ago by eMarketer, that region will account for 40% of Twitter’s user base by 2018, with India and Indonesia each growing the most in the near term – both are expected to see over 50% increases in user numbers this year. And while large growth numbers usually imply a small installed base, that’s not the case with these two countries, which will become Twitter’s third and fourth-largest regional Twitter user bases, respectively, this year.

Twitter Access/Zero could tap into this trend, offering mobile consumers a way to get a taste of what the Twitter service has to offer without the guilt of data charges, in the hopes that they’ll return to the site (or Android app in some cases, when it extends into low-end smartphone territory) when they actually have to pay.