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The launch of a major new version of Twitter’s service signals one important thing: Jack Dorsey is back. And Jack is in charge. His strength has always been in the “product” and up until now, there’s been an obvious void at Twitter. In many ways, it was trying to do everything for everyone — Evan Williams’ strength was never in product (think “lists”), and temporary boss Dick Costolo was never going to be a visionary when it came to the platform.
New New Twitter finally delivers a consistent experience across all platforms: web, mobile, apps. The service has always been disjointed. The web site was heading in one direction, a very liberal API meant a highly fragmented ecosystem of third-party apps, and mobile was very much an after-thought (until fairly recently). The acquisition of Tweetie, which meant it had an “official” app for Mac and iPhone, solved one problem but created another: Tweetie wasn’t exactly anything like website — they didn’t quite “belong” together. Dorsey’s influence in the product is obvious, and there’s been deliberate thought given to each element of the experience. There are rough edges — of course there’d be — but these will be fixed.
Folksy Twitter handles, which in the early days were the main element of a user’s identity, are far more de-emphasised in New New Twitter. Twitter now says “Retweeted by Hilton Tarrant” or “In reply to Hilton Tarrant”, regardless of my handle. This move sets Twitter up in direct opposition to Facebook and Google as a store of your online identity (something I’d argue is overdue and it needs to be). Why else would it redesign profile pages so prominently around the concept of identity? (It also means picking a handle is far less important; growth means unwieldy usernames like @DavidJones96_UK are becoming more common.)
3. Mainstream (or “ungeeking”)
By elevating the @ and # to two of the main tabs on the new platform, Twitter is trying to take rather obscure and geeky elements of the original service into the mainstream (despite the symbols). @ means simply “Connect”. # equals “Discover”. This is far simpler to understand and provides a more obvious home for each of these activities. You could see Twitter heading in this direction with the “Activity” tab, which it piloted recently (why were @ replies, retweets and follows separate streams in the first place?).
“Discover” is the key to making money. The infamous “Dickbar” that Costolo launched to “surface” content (and paid-for keywords/tweets/ads) never had a natural home on the top of your timeline. The # tab provides a natural home and the algorithms that help surface relevant content for you will become key to monetisation. The more Twitter knows about your interests (and who you’re following), the better it monetises. For advertisers, the new “brand pages” finally provide brands with a natural home on the service, instead of seeing that traffic sent off to Facebook.
5. Twitter Everywhere
Allowing users to embed a tweet like they do with a YouTube video is an attempt at extending Twitter platform beyond just its properties (and third-party apps). Coherency on the different platforms (web, mobile, apps) is a big step to try take it into the mainstream. Expect some restrictions on what third-party apps can and can’t do in future. Growing Twitter beyond its current (limited) audience gives it the shot at monetisation it needs. It desperately needs to turn into a business (especially since it’s raised over US$1-billion in venture capital funding to date!)
6. Culling the clutter
Lists and DMs (direct messages) have been folded into (/hidden in) the “Me” menu. You shouldn’t expect lists to stick around for much longer — you could argue they were never all that useful to begin with! The de-emphasis of DMs has caused a backlash online, but only really among the early adopters (who are probably the only ones using the feature). What is interesting to consider is Facebook’s push to private messaging (with the unified chat/e-mail/notifications inbox) versus Twitter’s push to (almost completely) public messaging.
This is not the end product, rather the start of Dorsey and Costolo’s vision of where Twitter is going. Expect a big push around monetisation in 2012.
Image: The DEMO Conference