Why New Twitter is Important

by francine Hardaway on September 16, 2010

Ev and Biz, those Silicon Valley celebrities who invented Twitter in 2006, scored a big news win last night with the release of a complete re-design of the Twitter.com site. Now we can not only see who is following us and who we follow more clearly, but we can do on the site what the applications built for Twitter used to do for us: see media in line with tweets. Tweets now carry a “payload” of video, photos, or music, allowing Twitter to function effectively as a media company.

Why is this important?

1)Media companies are looking for place to put content where viewers will see it and they can take advantage of advertising dollars. Online media has pretty much disrupted the old advertising models, and everyone is trying to figure out ways to pay for content. On the one extreme, we have Demand Media, which pays writers $15 a blog post and monetizes its sites with ads. On the other, you have Rupert Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal, which has always charged dearly for online subscriptions. The services formerly known as “mainstream media” are somewhere in this mix. And although today only 3% of people get their news from Twitter, that’s growing every day.

2)Facebook, considered the company Twitter has to beat, already has these features. Facebook is the place everyone posts photos and videos, because it wasn’t intuitive to place them on Twitter until yesterday. You had to use a Twitter “client,” a service built on Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), to do that. All Twitter clients have something disadvantageous about them compared to the main site. (Even if it’s only that many people don’t know how to find a good one or how to tell them apart.)

3)All the companies that build Twitter applications got another harsh life lesson last night: Twitter eats its young. When the API was released, people rushed to build on it, and the clients got better and better. Fortunately, the best of them, Seesmic, Tweetdeck, and Hootsuite have long ago evolved into social media dashboards that allow you to do much more than just check Twitter. But if you didn’t know or care what a “platform” is or does, after last night you do. Building on someone else’s platform is like renting a house, and when the owner wants to sell or gets foreclosed or wants to rip it down and build a shopping mall, you’re out.

4)Ev and Biz didn’t think people were spending enough time on Twitter. This is called “engagement,” and it’s the new buzz word for social media (see Brian Solis’ book Engage for more about this). Twitter wants you to engage: spend more minutes and talk to more people on Twitter. Video and pictures will help this, they feel.

5)For the user, my favorite person, and the only one that matters, new Twitter means a funner user experience — more to see and do. Twitter’s always been like a river –you check it every so often, dip your toe in, read something and write something and then move on. Facebook is more like a swamp into which you fall for hours every day, finding your old high school buddied and playing Farmville. Twitter isn’t trying to copy Facebook, but I think it is trying to emulate Facebook’s “stickiness: by converting itself into a site for news — all the news that’s fit to float in the river.

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