By Matthew Klein

November 24th, 2014

At its Analyst Day, Twitter let slip that some significant changes may be coming to their interface. They include:

  • An Instant Timeline—new users will have a timeline populated with tweets as soon as they sign up, as opposed to seeing a blank screen until they figure out who they want to follow.
  • Timeline Highlights—a selection of tweets from the time that users were away from the network.
  • Changes to direct messages—you’ll soon be able to include tweets, as well as links here.
  • In-app video functionality—shooting, editing and posting video natively in Twitter. There isn’t much in the way of detail here, but it’s very interesting.

All of these changes will have an impact on the Twitter experience for users. Two seem particularly telling in terms of the company’s overall strategy: Instant Timelines and the planned video features.

Instant timelines – increasing stickiness

Twitter has roughly 285 million monthly active users at the moment. They have done an excellent job at penetrating a certain class of user: the many people who right away see the value in a real time network that delivers news and updates from people you know and people you don’t. And they’ve done so globally, with 77% of those users outside the US.

Where the company has had trouble was in retaining those users who might not “get” Twitter immediately, and/or whose friends aren’t all on the service.

They have signed up a decent number of these people, but they have had some issues getting them to stick with the network—after they sign up, they don’t see enough of a reason to hang around.

Instant Timelines aim to keep new users coming back after they’ve signed up. Instead of their creating an account and seeing an empty screen, users would instantly be following people that Twitter thinks they would be interested in.

It’s a simple way for Twitter to solve the thorny problem of how to make the value of Twitter clear to more users immediately on signup. While other features that aimed to make the service easier for new users have drawn criticism from hard-core ones, this one won’t have any effect on them.

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In-app video gets Twitter closer to its goals

If there was one feature that people were most excited about, it was probably the in-app video tools. After buying Vine and watching it take off, it may seem as though Twitter risks cannibalizing that app by integrating native video sharing and editing capabilities into Twitter.

But from another perspective, it’s a very logical step for the company to take.

Back in April, Facebook unbundled messenger from the rest of its mobile app. Even if a number of people were not entirely happy about it, it was clear that the company had put some thought into the move, in terms of how people used its mobile app. Facebook determined that when people opened the app, the News Feed was the primary point of interest, and that sending messages was removed enough from that experience that it deserved its own app.

For Twitter, it’s pretty clear that they want that primary use cases for the app to be tweeting and consuming tweets. And they don’t want to draw lines between types of tweets: text, photo and video are all to be shared, preferably a lot.

Twitter is likely hoping that native video could help increase content creation among people who aren’t power users, which has been at times a sticking point for them: users know how to consume content on Twitter, but it’s a smaller percentage of users who are actually producing most of that content that’s being consumed. Well-built tools for in-app video might manage that, without complicating the use cases of the app.

What impact will the changes have?

An in-app video tool could make a significant impact on how people use Twitter. If done well, it could perhaps shift things on the network a little towards the creative side. Getting people to think a little more like Instagram users, considering the engagement rates that network has, could be a great thing.

If this shift occurred, it could be positive for Twitter as well as for the brands who are on it. If part of the Twitter community really focused on creating video and photo content to be shared, while text and links remained important, there would be more for everyone on Twitter. People could potentially be more engaged, and brands could do more, and get better results with creative content.

Final thoughts

These changes seem like they are trying to do a lot—to help new users understand the value of the service quickly, to broaden the pool of content creators and the type of content on Twitter, and more. It’s ambitious, but the new updates give an impression of being well thought out, like they have the potential to improve the experience for the people who use Twitter. It’s far too early to tell whether they’ll accomplish this. But if they do, it would be a coup for Twitter, and would probably make its shareholders happy. And they might help open avenues for the company to find its next 200 million users. 

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