What’s A Tweet Anymore?

Not 140 characters.

Twitter would like you to see Twitter in a very particular way, no matter where you see it: on your phone, on your tablet, on your desktop — even on someone else’s website. Which is why it lets you embed tweets anywhere, perfectly controlling the Twitter Experience™ while allowing it to spread around the web in bits and pieces that seem free-floating and viral but are in fact connected back to the Twitter core. Twitter’s evolution into something beyond 140 characters has accelerated over the last year; there are now something like “2,000 ways to bring more interactive and engaging Tweets to your stream.” But embeds couldn’t replicate the full range of every kind of “experience” a tweet could offer, until today.

View this embed ›

The new Twitter embeds are now fully atomic bits of Twitter: They can contain any media that fits into a Twitter Card — which is how Twitter wants developers to build things into Twitter, rather than create external Twitter apps. While Twitter embeds have included photos for a while — a pointed issue lately — the new version now allows you to embed video, article summaries, Flickr photos, song previews, even mini apps. They also include up-to-date retweet and fave counts and a slight redesign that more closely resembles what a tweet looks like on Twitter.com. (Although I don’t think they look that great? They’re a little too… sparse.)

As it’s been filled up with gooey media, Twitter’s stream has felt more and more like Facebook’s, but it’s inverting Facebook’s model here by allowing its media to be disembodied and spread anywhere — you don’t have to go to Twitter to look at a post, unlike Facebook. Twitter isn’t a closed stream in this model so much as it is a kind of ubiquitous media platform that can hold anything and be anywhere, all connected to the backbone of the stream.

The new embedded tweet does raise one rather important question for Twitter, however, one that I understand the company is still wrestling with internally: What is the distilled essence of a tweet? Is it 140 characters? Is it a new tweet in its entirety, with a photo and location and the conversation and everything else that’s attached to it? All I know is when I look at tweets pinned on webpages now, I see a lot more than 140 characters.

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