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New improved

Maggie Shiels | 09:16 UK time, Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The aim of the new Twitter is engagement - keeping users within the Twitter fold and stopping them from wandering all over their web to get their Twitter fix. All good in the chase for those advertising dollars, but perhaps less so for the third party eco-system that builds apps around Twitter.

At first blush, the revamped site is easy to use and more compelling when you get there.

Twitter split screen


The new set-up offers a split-screen with two panels. On the left side are tweets, mentions, retweets, lists and a search option and on the right your profile is laid out very clearly along with trends, lists and favourites. It is easier to check out video and photos and engage with the community.

In an interview with Twitter chief executive and co-founder, Evan Williams, he explains the thinking behind this first major overhaul of the site since its inception four years ago. He called it "transformative".

"We like the old Twitter but we thought we could make it better. We are so excited about the new one because it has everything the old one had but it is faster, easier to get more information and we think it is just an overall better experience."

The site was tested over a number of weeks with employees and users. Twitter didn't reveal numbers.

"At first it wasn't obvious how to incorporate the features we wanted to incorporate so we did a lot of testing to make sure that people understood it, understood what they were seeing and could navigate around and eventually that helped us get to the right design."

Evan Williams


Of course the original design of Twitter was a very simple one with little clutter, so what was the approach aesthetically speaking?

"We hope to maintain the simplicity and the ease. We think this (new version) makes it a lot easier because, even though there is a lot more functionality now, its clear what is going on. So you can take a simple short tweet and now get more context - get more information in less time. You can see the embedded video, the embedded picture. You can see what a tweet is about and other information much more easily than you could ever see before. There was a lot buried underneath Twitter before and now we are bringing that to the surface.

"We thought it was very important to keep the simplicity and so we didn't want to lose that. All the new stuff on Twitter is something you can opt into and drill down into the tweets and get more details, and jump around and discover and explore. Or you can not do that. You can use Twitter pretty much as before. Things load faster. There are more short cuts to do more things but it doesn't take away from that simplicity and we wanted to maintain that simplicity and really support what people were doing before."

It is all about engagement but Twitter said it doesn't know how long people spend on Twitter because "it has never been a goal to increase or maximise that. The goal of this really has always been to give people the maximum value for the time spent.

"We would actually like people to not spend much time on Twitter at all. We would just like them to get as much valuable information while they are there. So if this decreases the time, that's fine as long as they are getting more for that time."

So is this about aping what Facebook does?

"I just don't see that at all. This is about supporting what people are already doing on Twitter and Twitter is fundamentally an information network. It is about finding out what is happening in the world that is important to you and this makes that experience much better and I don't think there is anything like it."

Naturally I picked up on that reference to being an "information network" and "not a social hub".

Badges with Every Twitter Counts written on them


"We have never called Twitter a social network and from the beginning we designed it with this model of you follow information sources that you care about. These might be your friends, business leaders, experts, politicians, celebrities, media. That is the model that there is nothing else like and it came from a lot of experience in publishing and helping to get more information flowing in the world. That has always been our goal. There are social aspects to it, but it has never been a social network."

At Chirp, Twitter's developer conference earlier in the year, Mr Williams said that Twitter was hard to use. Adding all these layers with more functionality, surely adds to that complexity.

"You don't get simplicity by being cryptic. A lot of the most popular products have tons and tons of features because features make things easier. That is the whole point of the features we built in here. Hiding information doesn't make things easier. We are exposing more information. We are making things more obvious. If you see a username you can now see that person's real name and their bio and you can follow them right there. That is easier. That is the goal of all these features - make it easier, faster, reduce the number of steps required to do your things, see conversations, see media. I think it is going to be pretty intuitive for people."

More promoted tweets. Will that get in the way of the experience?

"No because they were always designed to be context relevant and what I mean by more promoted tweets is that there is going to be more discovery of tweets in general. There is more searches linked throughout the product and with promoted tweets we always measure engagement with them and if people are ignoring them, then they drop away. So that's a good safeguard about them being in the way."

Twitter said it hadn't shown the re-engineered to advertisers, even though advertising revenue is important to help pay the bills. So what opportunities will they see here?

"We've definitely think it is going to be a good thing for advertisers. The fact that it increases engagement, we think it will increase engagement with tweets, allow you to embed media. You know that's powerful for a lot of advertisers if they want to attach a photo, a video. They want to expose more of the conversation. Advertisers come to Twitter because they want engagement and conversation and this exposes more of that. So I am pretty confident they will be excited. This will improve that out of the box."

Twitter has helped create a healthy third party eco-system where a number of businesses have successfully created apps to make the Twitter experience easier for users. Doesn't this sound the death knell for the likes of Seesmic, TweetDeck etc.

"I don't think it sounds the death knell. We have made it pretty clear that third party clients are important, they add a lot of value to Twitter. That doesn't mean we are not going to improve the interfaces we own and control. That's something we have been doing for at least the last couple of years. This is the biggest change we have ever made and there are lots of other opportunities still. Our goal is to deliver the best experience to the most people possible, to make people more happy and engaged Twitter users."

What does this revamp say about Twitter's evolution?

"This is definitely a transformative moment for Twitter and it reflects a lot of things. It reflects a big leap in what the user experience is obviously, and I talked a lot about how we want to make Twitter a great experience for consuming and understanding what is happening around the world. Not just creating information and not just sharing. And it also reflects a big leap in the maturity and evolution of the company. So infrastructure and scalability is still a number one priority for us. But we have the capabilities to design such a great new product because we are a better functioning and bigger organisation."

You could have left things are they were because you weren't being deluged by complaints.

"You can never leave things as they are in this world. We started Twitter almost four years now and most of our time has gone into being able to handle the load and the demand for it. It is such a simple product but it got a lot of people engaged. We have just scratched the surface of what is possible. Our whole point of delivering Twitter is bringing value to people's lives and if we can do more of that, we will do it.

"It's evolve or die and not only that it is exciting and fun to create more and better products. We create this because we like it, we think it is a great product and we think it is going to be valuable for people. We're still just getting started. There is so much more that this lays the foundation for that we just can't wait to do the next stuff."

So what about that next step?

"We will see how this goes, but there is definitely a bunch more stuff in the works."

No, I didn't seriously think he was going to answer that question either.


  • 1. At 12:06pm on 15 Sep 2010, calmandhope wrote:

    And noone cares...

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  • 2. At 1:32pm on 15 Sep 2010, Philly-Mom wrote:

    @ Calm & Hopeful: No one, perhaps, except for all those tweeters out there who tweet re-tweet constantly... of whom there are many.

    Twitter is yet another incredible system that was developed just for the heck of it... that has SIGNIFICANT social impact and now faces the reality being 1) considered actual literature, 2) having certain socio-political effect, and 3) probably struggles as a lucrative business model.


    Frankly, I've avoided twitter like the plague... as it seems almost as infectious and world changing.
    -- but then... maybe... if I just tweet a little? ...only occasionally, mind you.

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  • 3. At 1:41pm on 15 Sep 2010, marcdraco wrote:


    Don't be fooled by the innocent way Twitter is promoted. It was never developed "just for the heck of it" it has raised tens of millions in investment to achieve much the same web domination as did with Microsoft Internet Explorer; bankrupting many smaller (more viable) businesses in the process.

    This is social engineering at its very worst and it's a disgrace that the BBC keeps talking about it.

    Don't forget that the sort of people who invested in Twitter are precisely the same people who are responsible for the banking crisis and subsequent financial woes the west now suffers.

    This is the real cost of Twitter.

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  • 4. At 1:52pm on 15 Sep 2010, Paul wrote:

    I highly doubt it was ever developed without a long-term business model, but the fact that until now there's no space in the page layout for advertising speaks volumes about their priorities.

    How you can possibly blame Twitter for the poor performance of businesses is ridiculous. The banking crisis was mainly caused by bankers and greedy companies, not social networks. I'll point you to banks making massive losses and still paying huge bonuses to their already-high-earning staff. If a business is "viable" then it will succeed with hard work and good marketing. Blaming another company in a country thousands of miles away is stupid.

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  • 5. At 3:39pm on 15 Sep 2010, calmandhope wrote:

    Philly mom, while I don't doubt that twitter has its uses, and can be great fun for the people who do find it usefull. I meant my comment more in the sense that is this really the only news going on around silicon valley at the moment, that a website has been redesigned?

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  • 6. At 3:47pm on 15 Sep 2010, edward-in-germany wrote:

    Advertising.. No place for ads is never a sign of lack of commercial interest.. One need only be reminded of Google...First win over the hearts and minds and sell a positive "don't be evil image", buy political influence and then go in for the kill with an IPO and leverage that money for more power.. Sheep's clothing always works better than playing with open cards.. and in today's "Internet" the masses are so pre-programmed to act in mobs (in i-speak: virally) you just need to feed media like BBC some numbers and let them help spread the plague.... No need to burn books when nobody reads them and information visibility is controlled by a small handful of capitalists and fund managers that controls the companies that take-up the majority of Internet traffic. Twitter is about trivializing the game even further.. what's there is nothing . The 50s dystopian nightmares are long upon us.

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  • 7. At 5:37pm on 15 Sep 2010, Philly-Mom wrote:

    Communications tools are useful when people use them to communicate.
    Social networking tools are useful when people join the network.
    Banks are useful for storing, borrowing and lending money.
    Silicon Valley is useful for... um... well... coming up with interesting ideas for how to use silicon that is produced in mass quantities in other parts of the world and used by significant parts of first world countries for communications, business and information systems, which, in turn, affects the global economy in small, significant &/or interesting ways... Or some such what not.

    Twitter is useful for tweeting.
    ... at least, that's what a little bird once told me.

    @ Edward Deutschlander: So, Twitter is a tool of the Borg? Or is it merely a facebook for exhibitionists with short attention spans? Oh, and don't forget that Google lived off it's advertising revenue for a very long time. Might not a platform/format modification be useful for expanding the functionality of the system, thereby 'diversifying' for potential revenue income?
    [I honestly don't know. It's just a thought.]

    @ Calm Hope: Agreed! 'tis highly amusing. I meant no insult. Rather, I merely find the tweeter-phenomenon amusing, therefore found the article amusing. That's all. Nothing more. No worries.

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  • 8. At 5:51pm on 15 Sep 2010, danixd wrote:


    A conspiracy theory about Twitter? Amazing!

    I don't see why people hate it so much. I use Twitter to learn, share information I come across and communicate with old class and work mates. Can't see any underlying evil there.

    Regarding the design, I definitely prefer that clicking on individual Tweets / Users doesn't open in a new window, but from what I can see from the video on I don't see many other huge differences.

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  • 9. At 6:25pm on 15 Sep 2010, Ollie wrote:

    When we had a power blackout recently for over an hour, no local news services had information for 2 days. However when googling within minutes of power returning, twitter users let me know how far and wide the power cut was. A very useful service for power cuts therefore.

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  • 10. At 10:52pm on 15 Sep 2010, Green Soap wrote:

    A very useful service for power cuts therefore.

    I believe candles are better. And more use than all the twits.

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  • 11. At 04:11am on 16 Sep 2010, marcdraco wrote:


    I don't blame Twitter for the banking crisis - I blame greedy bankers for that; please don't conflate the two.

    Internet businesses of this scale (think Google) need vast numbers of users to succeed; but running a business of this size is hellishly expensive too. The only way you get those users is by giving them something for free. Free newspapers use this model.

    Businesses like Twitter (and Facebook, come to that) need massive amounts of risk capital to make them work due to their phenomenal burn rate (this is not a good thing).

    Twitter has burned tens of millions of $s and continues to run at a loss.

    That money has to come from somewhere - most likely hedge funds and hedge funds... well, you should research the rest. Perhaps I should explain that I have a fair amount of experience in this field so this isn't idle conjecture.

    Twitter (actually the parent company, "Obvious") did have some long-term business model - just like Google's - but unlike Google, Biz Stone's rather bullish projections failed to materialise. Trouble is that now the investors are in so deep they might not even be able to get out - Twitter like our banks, may just be to big to fail!

    Discussions leaked/stolen/hacked a year or two back shed some more light on their plans (or lack of them as I recall) the evidence will still be on Google I expect.

    We might all love to hate Bill Gates, but unlike these pirates, Gates did provide a tangable product. Advertising and sponsorship is a very different game - in business terms its more like Russian Roulette.

    Google promised to "not be evil" and yet that smile is starting to tarnish; Twitter has never even promised that - relying on simple boyish charm which I detect many are fooled by. All that glitters is not gold.

    Maggie Sheils might lavish Twitter with praise - I'd be more interested to note when it turns a decent profit.

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  • 12. At 09:52am on 16 Sep 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    I find Twitter an incredibly useful resource.

    On average I learn 200 things a day, usually with URLs, that I either didn't know or inspire me to check further.

    One oddly useful side-benefit is its ability to seduce those who might be thought to know better into sharing stuff they really ought not, from silly pols to employees of major corporations.

    The best are those who have a wee disclaimer top right saying 'Follow me because I work for/with [ ], yet I'll try and claim that nothing I write in a personal capacity here is anything to do with my employers [ ]. Did I mention I work for [ ]?

    One other danger is that some seem to conflate them and their mates tweeting about it with the rest of the representative population a) doing the same or b) caring.

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  • 13. At 8:54pm on 16 Sep 2010, marcdraco wrote:

    What a waste of bandwidth this blog is:

    Here is a real piece of computer technology news from the BBC.

    And it's Yahoo...

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  • 14. At 09:33am on 17 Sep 2010, Fwd079 wrote:

    @Marcdraco: LOL that's some nerdy news. :D


    On the whole I agree twitter is addictive, but just as addictive as any other thing you want to get addicted to. :-/

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  • 15. At 3:49pm on 18 Sep 2010, marcdraco wrote:


    Nerdy? That it is, ma boy, that it is! ;-)

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