The message from Twitter over the last year has been consistent about one thing: Change is coming. It's building a new Twitter. We sort of joked it would look like this — essentially, more like Facebook — but the new features Twitter rolled out last night show just how true that will be.
Twitter just launched a handful of interrelated things for its mobile apps: a new photo interface, a photo-centric revision of Search and Discover, a slightly tweaked way of denoting retweets, and it built Cards directly into the Discover tab. The result is what you see above, with in-stream photos, a more immersive experience when you click on pictures, and clearer context for retweets that appear in your timeline.
While the new stuff is concentrated within the Discover tab and Search, with the Interaction tab and timeline left mostly untouched, consider that Twitter redesigned the Me tab two months ago. In other words, it may well be sweeping right to left, rebuilding its app one column at a time. When I talked to Josh Brewer, a Twitter designer, he said that the new photo-centric Discover and Search are just "one step toward creating a richer experience," a now-familiar refrain from Twitter.
So now that Me and Discover have been redesigned, what will the new timeline — the main feed — look like in this "richer experience"? Well, probably a lot like Discover does now: with photos and articles displayed midstream, something that more closely resembles a Facebook newsfeed than your current Twitter feed. Remember Twitter's other refrain of late: "consistency." So it makes sense the timeline would look like other fancy new stuff in the Twitter app, or at least fit in with it, visually. And talking to Brewer, it's clear that Twitter is all about photos and these other kinds of media right now:
140 characters is fairly straightforward. In the 140 characters, there's often these links and all the content types you described [photos, video, articles]. How can we make it easier for you to find the great content that people are already sharing?
The thing is, Twitter has always been defined by text. (Even if some of the service's key moments, like the Hudson River plane crash, were photos). So won't showing full-blown photos and article summaries in the main timeline, the way Twitter does now in Search and Discover, kind of break the Twitter stream we know? Well, talking about the changes with photos in Discover, Brewer thinks Twitter found "a way to keep that feeling of a real rhythm in the stream," so "it feels very much like you're in Twitter, not something different."
When I asked him directly about photo overload and all the scrolling you have to do in, say, a Facebook newsfeed, Brewer replied, "At the end of the day people share all kinds of content, and the odds of seeing 50 photos in a row — I'd be hard-pressed to think of a situation where that would occur."
In other words, Twitter has thought about what a very different kind of Twitter stream, one packed with images and articles, will feel like. It thinks you'll be cool with it.
There is obviously still a lot of care being taken with the timeline and what it looks like — the rationale behind the new retweet style for instance, Brewer explained, is that "in your home timeline you've brought these people you follow into your house. A retweet is almost like a guest, and you wanna know who brought this guest into your house."
It's also clear that Twitter doesn't want to go full-on Facebook, particularly with the way it handles photos — one of the biggest points of difference between the two, with Facebook being the largest photo service in the world. Brewer emphasized that Twitter, unlike Facebook, is all about moments, so don't expect being able to upload full photo galleries. Twitter's emphasis on photos, he said, comes down to the fact that "for a lot of other people, photos are the easiest way for them to share what they're thinking and what they're feeling in the moment." It goes beyond language or 140 characters. And Twitter, he added, is "a mechanism for sharing a moment rather than being a photo service."
Still, photos, videos, articles, Cards — when all of that stuff is packed into your stream, is Twitter still Twitter? Brewer promises, "At the end of the day, Twitter is about tweets." Well here's the question then: At the end day, what is a tweet about anymore?