While Twitter started out a few years ago as a social tool where people could communicate in real-time via short snippets, the team behind Twitter believes the site has evolved into something quite different — a news site.

In a presentation at Nokia World 2010 yesterday, ReadWriteWeb reports that Twitter’s vice president of business and corporate development, Kevin Thau, made the case for the site’s evolution into a news delivery tool.  Thau cited examples like the plane crash in New York’s Hudson River that was shared first with the world via an eyewitness’ tweet.  This is just one example of how both news organizations and individuals around the world not only turn to Twitter to share breaking news but also to “consume” news.

News related to the protests after the Iran elections not long ago trickled out from Iranian citizens via Twitter.  News about earthquakes in Haiti was communicated via Twitter.  Even the news of Michael Jackson’s death, first communicated via a blog, was consumed and verified via Twitter.

In other words, Twitter usage patterns have changed significantly in the few years since the tool debuted.  Today, there are 145 million active Twitter users, but according to Alexa, Twitter gets 910 million unique visitors, placing it in the top 10 largest websites.  Considering that 60% of Twitter’s growth today is coming from outside of the United States and the growing number of people with smartphones that make using Twitter on the go easier than ever, there is no doubt Twitter will continue to grow and evolve in the coming years.

Furthermore, yesterday Twitter announced its first redesign since the site’s debut, which is aimed to keep users on the site longer in order to attract more advertisers to make larger investments.  The redesign, paired with the site’s repositioning as a news source, makes a clear statement about where the team behind Twitter wants the site to go in the near future.

What do you think?  Do you use Twitter for news gathering, for socializing, or both?  Will the new design of Twitter affect your usage habits?