Twitter’s Latest Partnership, With Truecaller In India, Links Phone Number Look-Ups With Tweeting

Twitter has been inking deals with third parties outside of the U.S. to drive more international usage, both in emerging and mature markets. Today comes news of yet another deal that it hopes will expand its presence in one country in particular: India.

Truecaller — a startup out of Sweden that has built a reverse-lookup phone directory accessible via mobile apps — has struck a partnership with Twitter, whereby users in the country will be able find people on Twitter via their phone numbers, and will then be able to follow and tweet to them, all via the Truecaller app. For now, there will be no ability, however, to comment on other people’s tweets or see full timelines.

Truecaller’s CEO and co-founder Alan Mamedi says that this is the first time that Twitter has partnered for such a service.

“One of our advisors introduced us to Dick Costolo, who connected us with the right people at Twitter who made this partnership possible,” Mamedi tells us. He says the business terms of the deal are not being disclosed.

Truecaller has a strong presence already in the country. Overall, it is currently adding 1 million users per week, and about 500,000 of those are coming from India. In total, Truecaller has more than 22 million users in the country — or roughly one-third of existing smartphone users.

On the other hand, Truecaller has a need to drive more goodwill with users in the country, after reports earlier this year that its caller database was hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army. People alleged that this exposed phone numbers of its users, although Truecaller says that it was the tokens that were exposed, and then immediately reset.

The Twitter integration is coming out first on Truecaller’s free Android app (Android being the fastest-growing popular smartphone OS in India right now), and will extend to its iOS app in 2014.

“Our goal has always been to have Truecaller on available all platforms and we will continue to keep it a multi-platform product,” he says. “The Truecaller 4.0 for iPhone will be rolled out in the coming weeks and early next year also on Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10.” On top of that, Truecaller is on the majority of java phones and we recently launched a SMS application, and it is now exploring USSD, all areas where Twitter has also been active in courting usage among those who are not yet using smartphones (and Twitter apps), or do not have reliable access to mobile data and are therefore stuck on 2G.

Loosening The API Gates

The move underscores an interesting progression for Twitter over the last year. In 2012, the social network infamously cut off access to its API for many developers who it believed weren’t providing a differentiated enough experience from Twitter itself, resulting in the closure or modification of several apps — and business models.

But bit by bit, things are changing. We have heard from a couple of different sources that Twitter has been pursuing a strategy to open back up the gates, but in a targeted way. One focus is letting alternative Tweeting experiences back in where and when they might actually be useful to driving Twitter usage overall.

Emerging markets, and India in particular, are prime examples of a where Twitter might take a looser approach.

For many U.S.-based internet companies, which are already well-placed (or in some cases maxed out) for growth at home, emerging markets literally represent the “next billion.”

(Facebook has also worked on ways of driving more usage in countries like India, teaming up with carriers for free talktime usage bundles and services that work on not-so-smart handsets.)

Marketing efforts from the likes of Twitter and Facebook to target users in emerging markets in more creative ways dovetail also with larger trends among consumers there, who are increasingly using smartphones (or smart ‘dumbphones’), seeing better wireless data connectivity, and gradually more competitive deals from their carriers to take advantage of the first two.

Twitter is laying down stronger roots in India specifically. That has included a beefed up commercial and editorial presence in the country. And potentially an acquisition, we’ve heard.

In the context of international growth, India is a clear opportunity for a text-heavy service like Twitter. Not only is it a rapidly growing and huge market with over 800 million mobile users, but in a polyglot country like India, English is for many the default language, bringing the population closer in line with Twitter’s own lingua franca.

As we have pointed out before, there are some signs that Twitter’s efforts abroad are paying off. In 2012, Twitter made $53 million revenue outside the U.S., or 17% of the overall mix. In the nine months that ended September 30, 2013, Twitter made $106.7 million internationally, or 25% of total revenue. It’s disproportionate to usage, though: as of September 2013, Twitter had more than three times as many users outside of the U.S. than in it: 179 million versus 52.7 million.

With Truecaller — which is backed by Open Ocean (the VC fund from ex- MySql and Nokia employees) — Twitter will be tapping into a service that’s already popular in markets like India where existing directory and caller ID services are not necessarily very comprehensive or accurate.

Truecaller’s platform aggregates existing directory services via deals with white pages companies, and complements that with crowdsourced information from the app’s users. That includes accessing your own address book, although you can opt out from that, and individual users can also opt out from being listed.

Twitter integration gives users another reason to use Truecaller as well.

“Twitter adds a creative communication channel to Truecaller and helps become a fast, free and effective way to contact a person through the app,” Mamedi notes. “Truecaller’s partnership with Twitter signifies another way in which Truecaller helps users communicate with who they want, when they want… For us, we are trying to build long term and meaningful partnerships. Our users are gaining added value with Twitter being integrated into the app. We know that a majority of our users use Truecaller to identify unknown numbers, and we predict that the Twitter aspect will improve the quality of information Truecaller is able to provide.”

Mamedi declined to comment on roll-outs with Twitter to further countries. “We can’t say specifics yet, but we plan for other countries to come next,” he says. “We are aiming for a global roll out very soon and are looking forward to bring this great experience to the whole world.”