Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 11:46 pm.
The new, new Twitter: 10 big takeaways
Twitter launched a major new version of its service today with many components: A significant redesign; a more common user experience between Twitter-the-website and its various apps; more features for brands; and new versions of TweetDeck for the web, Mac, and PC.
I attended Twitter’s press conference this morning at its future headquarters in San Francisco. And thanks to airport delays, I’ve been goofing around with the new Twitter website, iPhone app, and TweetDeck for Mac most of the day.
Here’s what I’ve come away with.
- Most important: Twitter is shipping. There’s been a bit of negative press about the company over the past several months. And yes, some of its early and/or important employees aren’t there anymore. But Twitter is a large company now. And to release something this big, this good, this smoothly, it actually seems to be working. (And in my observation, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey actually seem to play off each other pretty well. At least in public!)
- This is the beginning of Jack Dorsey’s real vision for Twitter combined with Dick Costolo’s vision for a real-time social advertising product. The main components: writing and Tweets, obviously; having conversations with other people; discovering what’s happening in the world through Twitter; and seeing a promoted message from brands here and there.
- Twitter is trying to de-emphasize private messaging by moving it a layer deeper in the user interface. I’m guessing there are a bunch of reasons for this, not limited to: Simplicity, perhaps relatively low usage by most users, potentially confusing rules around DMing, and that more public content is probably better for Twitter’s product and advertising goals. Some long-time and hardcore Twitter users are probably going to be upset about this, but one of Twitter’s strengths has always been its willingness to design for its mainstream users at the expense of its geek users. (Tip: To get fast access to your DMs on Twitter for iPhone, you can swipe up the “Me” icon at the bottom.)
- Twitter is emphasizing real-name identity more than it did before. It’s now saying “retweeted by Dan Frommer” instead of “retweeted by @fromedome”. While I’ve always appreciated the playfulness of Twitter handles, this is probably more useful for Twitter going forward. It adds a sense of civility. It starts to make Twitter an alternative to Facebook for real-name identity management. (Something the market wants.) And as Twitter grows, and as having a unique handle without numbers becomes trickier, it looks cleaner.
- Brands seem to want more than just a Twitter feed to house their stuff. Thus today’s new brand pages. Of the 3 Twitter ads I’ve ever clicked on, all 3 took me to Facebook pages. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but my hunch is that Twitter wishes it didn’t have to do that. More publishing tools for brands could help.
- Twitter search seems less important. Yes, the search bar is still there, but the idea of just-plain searching through tweets seems to be de-emphasized. But search-like algorithms are still running under the hood in many important areas of Twitter, such as activity and hashtags. (Part of this, I assume, comes as Twitter realizes that Google-like search ads aren’t the future of Twitter’s ad product. That wasn’t clear a few years ago.)
- Twitter lists seem way less important. I get the feeling that they were an Evan Williams feature and not a Jack Dorsey feature. Personally, I never really liked them or used them, anyway. (Except to mine data about Twitter’s employees for a project.)
- TweetDeck seems to have found a role as “Twitter Pro”. It’s my desktop Twitter client of choice, so I’m glad that Twitter isn’t shutting it down after acquiring it. And I love that there’s a native Mac version now — goodbye, Adobe AIR, I’ll never miss you. I don’t care as much about the web app version of TweetDeck, but people seem to enjoy it. There’s some new stuff that will take some getting used to in the Mac version, and some things are still missing. But overall, I’m just happy it’s still being developed.
- Twitter gets the little things. I love that the “home” icon on the Twitter app is a birdhouse. And that the pencil on the “compose” icon is a quill. Things like that make me smile and feel like the people making Twitter love Twitter. You can’t say that about a lot of software companies.
- Twitter is planning to be huge. Both in terms of worldly significance and company size. That’s why it’s making a product that anyone and everyone can use. That’s why it wants you to be able to embed a tweet conversation on any website. That’s why it’s building such a massive new office in San Francisco. And that’s why this ad stuff really, really needs to work — because if Twitter can’t eventually turn its product into a big business, it’s not going to be a pretty story.
Here are a few photos of Twitter’s new, boiler room-like space in pre-construction condition. The room with blue lighting is going to be the lunchroom, and the other huge room is going to be turned into an outdoor roof deck. Pretty cool.