Commentary

Twitter's New Redesign: Finally, A Service For The Rest Of Us

There's one thing I always try hard not to do when one of social media's big players comes out with substantial changes -- and that's to read what everyone else thinks about it before I form my own opinion. (Reading news stories is OK; reading everything about it on TechCrunch -- not OK.) Making sure to go wide-eyed and innocent into Twitter's redesign Tuesday has been made easier by two things:

1)    I'm not one of the privileged to whom the new design has rolled out.

2)    Cablevision -- including my phone, Internet, and TV -- was out intermittently all day yesterday, so, even if it did roll out to me, I might not even know it.

That said, I do have one big thought: that, as of this redesign -- which allows people to see more information about each tweet without leaving the service -- Twitter is finally a service for the rest of us. Those of us who are on Twitter (or Tweetdeck or Seesmic) all day might not realize it, but Twitter has never really been very user-friendly. In fact, whenever I show someone from the untweeted masses the tweetstream of the people I follow, they look at me quizzically, as though maybe my next stop should be to the doctor for some mind-altering meds. I mean, really, if you weren't on Twitter, what would you make of the following?

  • WA Post agrees w my earlier post. TParty win in Delaware is good for Democrats. http://bit.ly/bntyi7

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  • Hulu's Most Popular Videos of All Time: http://bit.ly/9kE0Re

 

  • Reading now Update Your Facebook Status While Driving... Seriously!: OnStar, the in-car services network, today ann... http://bit.ly/ds5Zq1

 

What was that outburst of randomness? It was the last three tweets (sans usernames) from those I follow. No wonder people have occasionally questioned my addiction to Twitter. Am I part of some weird cult, or what?

But, you, like me, got into it partly because you had to -- it was important to your business. And, by the time you had made it up the steep part of the learning curve, you were hooked. You found old friends and new there; it became your first source of news and the best viral videos; it helped you promote yourself, 140 characters at a time, among a circle of people who never would have cared about you otherwise. The fact that so many tweets and people on the service came at you completely out of context got lost in the shuffle.

But many millions of Twitter account-holders -- and millions who haven't yet joined  -- never made it up that learning curve. The main reason, I think, is that each tweet's lack of context made it a service that for a lot of people never paid off quickly enough. Recent changes aside, Twitter actually began to address this problem in July, when it launched its "Who to Follow' feature. It occurred to me, once I saw it, what a pain in the derriere it had been to actually find lots of new people to follow. That feature has begun to change Twitter. You've probably experienced what I have: a steady increase in new followers.

The redesign is a bigger step down the same path. It's all about giving Twitter more context while still keeping to the original, simple idea -- that reams of communication can happen in only 140 characters. All of the things that the redesigned Twitter will do provide the context necessary to make Twitter not just huge but really, really huge. Users will no longer have to guess what video or photo people are linking to, or who the people are. Because it will embed maps from location-based tweets, users will no longer have to wonder if that great burger joint is around the corner or in Kalamazoo. I saw nothing about whether Twitter.com's new right pane -- which is where all of this information will be stored -- will show the source of each bit.ly URL, but that would be great too.

Of course, all of the above is good for Twitter. In addition to attracting new users, it will make Twitter.com more of a destination than it has been. Ouch. Maybe this means Tweetdeck will no longer be my default Twitter client. I certainly don't want to see third-party services lose as Twitter begins to fly out further out of its original nest, but I certainly welcome a Twitter that's more usable. What's better for Twitter is ultimately better for everybody who is, or wants to be, part of it.

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