SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter, the "microblogging" website, has signed a sponsorship deal with Microsoft covering a new area of its portal, and also started running ads for "third party applications," a move seen by some analysts as a precursor to establishing a more formal brand advertising service.

Having recently entered its third year of operation, Twitter is regarded as an integral part of a broader social media trend that is re-shaping online communications, having also been one of the major success stories of 2008.

Microsoft is sponsoring the new ExecTweets section of its website, which collates the posts made by executives ranging from Virgin's Richard Branson to the IAB's Randall Rothenberg and Steve Case, one of the founders of AOL.

Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, said that the company is "contacted regularly by brands interested in sponsoring innovative experiences based on topics of interest."

ExecTweets is being operated by Federated Media, an online advertising firm, as Stone argues Twitter doesn't have the "time or resources to build these interesting topical experiences."

It is also one of the applications now being promoted on the website, as is Twittervision, a third party service that offers an overview of a variety of "tweets" from around the world.

While the promoted services are all currently directly linked to Twitter, some observers argue this constitutes the first step toward monetising the site using more traditional advertising models.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal/Big Mouth Media; additional content by WARC staff