Twitter tries a new look to really, really get you to stay
The social network gets a makeover to fix what frustrated regular users and kept others away altogether.
Terry CollinsStaff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Twitter is giving us a new way to look at Donald Trump's eyebrow-raising tweets -- and everything else on the social media network.
The company said Thursday it will be "refreshing" the platform in the next few days to make it "lighter, faster, and easier to use" for current users --and to attract new ones. Among the changes are a new side navigation menu, a new typeface and more relatable icons.
Many of the changes came about because of user feedback, said Grace Kim, Twitter's head of user research and design. For example, first-time users often were confused by the reply icon (that left-turn-looking arrow below tweets), thinking it meant "delete" or "go back to a previous page." Well, that symbol's being replaced by the more familiar speech bubble (a la rival Instagram).
"We listened closely and kept what you love," Kim wrote in a blog post. "And for the things you didn't, we took a new approach to fix and make better."
He later tweeted that four major themes emerged from users' feedback: abuse, editing, topics and interests, and conversations. While the company says it has made "phenomenal" progress curbing abusive behavior and giving people more space to tweet -- by not counting photos, videos, polls, quotes and GIFs toward its 140-character limit -- the changes have been gradual over the past year.
Another new change: Tweets seen on smartphones and Tweetdeck will now update instantly with reply, retweet and like counts so you can see the conversations happening in real time.
That feature impressed eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson, who said Wednesday that the enhancements are both "refreshing" and long overdue. Despite now having 328 million users, thanks in part to Trump's tweeting, Twitter still lags behind rivals Facebook, which counts nearly 2 billion users, and Facebook-owned Instagram, with its 700 million users.
And Twitter is competing for video advertising dollars with Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat in a market that's predicted to reach $13.2 billion in spending in the US this year and $22.2 billion by 2021, according to Williamson.
"Twitter has always been strongest when it is being used as a platform for real-time content and conversation, and being able to see retweets and replies as they happen is a key part of this overall mission," she said. "Whether all of this will drive more people to use Twitter is still the big question."
Other highlights of Twitter's new look include these changes:
Fewer tabs at the bottom of the page, given the new side navigation menu featuring user profiles and settings.
More links to articles and websites in iOS' Safari browser, so users can access accounts on websites they're already signed into.
Sleeker typography and more bold headlines to help you -- as Dorsey often proclaims -- "see what's happening." And rounded user profile photos instead of the square profile.
Twitter's changes can also be seen as a nod to its competition, most notably Instagram, to attract more millennials, said Kelley Heider, vice president of social media at SSPR, a San Francisco-based public relations agency. She said even adding simple features like a speech bubble could change the course of dialogue on a platform that's a frequent outlet for crass behavior.
"These subtle moves could be really important," she said. "I'm curious to see what the reaction is going to be."
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