SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Twitter made some major changes to its long-neglected website, including the ability to post and view photos and video, in a bid to increase the amount of time its 160 million users spend at Twitter.com.
Twitter is unique in that much of its user base interacts with the service through third-party applications such as TweetDeck or Hootsuite. Those applications have, in some cases, more features than Twitter.com itself. Twitter is rolling out the changes slowly; about 1% of Twitter users got the update Tuesday night.
Speaking at Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco, CEO Evan Williams described the service as an information network, one built to help users communicate and discover what's relevant to people in their world and what's important now on the internet. And with the redesign, he said, "you can click on a tweet and get a richer, faster, more detailed experience and get related content."
The company announced deals with 16 media content providers -- including YouTube, Flickr, Twitpic and Ustream -- to make the experience of viewing media and disseminating it more seamless. There are also new conveniences, including endless scrolling through tweets (no "more" button).
While some of the applications people use to access Twitter have become popular, Mr. Williams said Twitter's own site is the most popular by far, with 78% of those who have logged on to Twitter in the past month doing so through the website. Twitter's own mobile application is second, at 14%.
Like third-party apps, Twitter.com was built on the company's own API, which, according to execs, will make the website more reliable and secure. Twitter has had a consistent problem with "uptime," enough so that the trademark symbol, the Fail Whale, and "Twitter is over capacity" message have become a running joke and cultural touchstone among users.
Twitter infrastructure has to handle 370,000 new sign-ups a day, not to mention withstand the waves of Justin Bieber fever.
So what are the changes? The Twitter "timeline" shifts to the left and the right "pane" is the geography for an expanded look at whatever the user is clicking on, whether it be a detailed bio of a tweeter, a list of people who have re-tweeted the original tweet, or a photo/video linked to in the tweet, meaning users can click and view content without losing their place in the timeline.
The redesign is as much for advertisers as it is for users, as it will give new visibility for sponsored tweets and trends, as well as content disseminated by marketers.
Chief Operating Officer Dick Costolo, the man charged with turning Twitter into a real business, said he plans to start showing it to advertising clients immediately. "The benefit of the new interface is there's much more opportunity for users to explore," he said. "It's an opportunity for users to engage with the tweet and to see the ways others have engaged with the tweet."
Of course, "users" can mean advertisers as well. In the prior iteration of the site, if an advertisers wanted to see how many people responded to a tweet or who re-tweeted their information, the process was cumbersome. Actually, there was no process. Just a whole lot of clicking around the site. Now, all the information is available immediately and without leaving the tweet.
More importantly for branded campaigns, if an advertisers wants to show a photo or a video, it's immediately viewable. "For example, we had the 'Toy Story 'campaign and back with the old site, they had a link in the tweet that took you to a trailer video for the movie that was on another site," Mr. Costolo said. "Now, the trailer is right there and so are all the retweets and all the people who have commented on the trailer."
Twitter has worked with most major film and television studios, as well as Nike, Starbucks, Virgin America, Pepsi and Coke. "The details pane and the way its going to enhance user engagement is going to boost their ability to communicate with their customers," Mr. Costolo said.
This redesign is so important to Twitter that even Silicon Valley venture capitalist legend and Twitter investor Ron Conway attended the announcement. "Over time, Twitter's going to monetize beautifully," he said. "I trust these guys."