SAN FRANCISCO--Twitter on Tuesday unveiled a major redesign of its home page, one its executives say will give users a better, easier, and faster experience.
Though site redesigns are often underwhelming, the new Twitter.com is tantamount to a fundamental relaunch of the popular microblogging service's Web-based interface, mainly because it introduces a new interface build around a second viewing pane in which users will be able to see all kinds of content--from photos and videos to user profiles to geolocation information and more.
Twitter CEO Evan Williams said that the new version of the site (see video below) is available to some users immediately, while others will see it implemented in the coming weeks.
The basic idea behind the redesign, Williams told a packed house of technology journalists at its headquarters here, is to make the service easier and faster to use. Today, he explained, fully 78 percent of active users turn to Twitter.com to access the service rather than using one of the many third-party applications available on mobile and desktop environments.
Asked if the expectation is that the redesign will drive even more users to Twitter.com, Twitter Director of Products Jason Goldman said, "I think people will come back more often to the Web site because of the experience it represents."
Clearly, Twitter has been listening to feedback about its home page, even as it grows at astronomical rates. The service is adding about 370,000 new accounts per day, of which about 16 percent are done via mobile devices, Williams said.
Still, while the company has always supported the development of third-party Twitter applications, it's clear that it would like more people to use the service via the Twitter.com site. As a result, this redesign seems geared toward providing many of the kinds of features that have long been available in others' apps.
At its most basic, the new user experience is built around the idea that no one should have to navigate away from the main view of tweets presented on the home page in order to look at other kinds of content. Until now, clicking on a user's profile or a link to a photo or video would result in an entirely different view.
But now, looking at any of those sources of content will simply open them in the pane on the right side of the page. In addition, the redesign also does away with some of the longstanding Twitter.com shortcomings, such as limits to the number of tweets that would show on a single page. With the redesign, users will be able to scroll infinitely through their timeline.
The point, Williams suggested, was to make discovery a much more seamless experience on Twitter.com. Rather than forcing users to navigate away from their main view, they will now be able to continue to see their timeline on the left, even as they look at different kinds of content on the right. That, the CEO said, should make it much easier to get value from the massive amount of content flowing through the site, without inconveniencing users.
Another big part of the puzzle--especially for anyone who's gone through any of the countless numbers of Twitter outages--is that the new Twitter.com front end has been completely re-architected using the company's own APIs. It's not clear, of course, how that will impact the site's uptime, but Williams seemed to indicate that stability was a big priority in the re-launch.
As part of the redesign, Twitter struck deals with 16 media companies--including Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, TwitPic, and others--that will allow content from those services to display in the new viewing pane. Apparently, no money changed hands as part of those deals.
Though the new Twitter.com is launching Tuesday, Williams and other Twitter executives said the company had been experimenting with it internally--and with small groups of external testers--for months. And while some of the features are similar to Twitter's new iPad application, the Web redesign was started first, Williams said.
At first glance, I'd have to say that Twitter did a very nice job with the redesign. I'm not one of the 78 percent of people who turn first to Twitter.com to use the service--I'm a longtime TweetDeck man. And I don't know if the redesign offers me enough to turn mainly to the home page.
That said, it's definitely nice to be able to scroll endlessly through the timeline of tweets, and it's a big step forward for Twitter to allow users to view photos and videos, as well as profiles and other content without leaving the main view. Williams said the site is now faster than it's been in the past, and I've not had enough time with it to evaluate that claim.
But there's no question that on the whole, this is a big step forward for the service. Whether it will help the company bring in revenue is something that neither Williams nor any other executive addressed with any substance Tuesday, though that was, of course, a question on many minds at the press event.