Twitter today updated its website to make it faster and more modern, bringing previously buried features and connections out in the open, in a bid to increase user consumption and engagement. I just got back from the launch event at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, which I covered live here. After the presentation was over, I had a chance to talk to Twitter product managers, executives and engineers about the new site. Here are some of the tidbits I learned:
- Although no specific number was given during the presentation, Twitter is rolling out the new site to 1 percent of its 160 million registered users tonight, said product manager Kevin Cheng. A lot of tech launches are U.S. only, but this is worldwide.
- The code name for the new launch was Phoenix (Kind of funny when you think of the metaphorical bird rising from the ashes. As long as in this metaphor the ashes are the fail whale.)
- Twitter wants to position itself as a place for fast and easy consumption of information. Product manager Josh Elman said that he expects Twitter will be more like Google than Facebook: a destination for quick visits rather than extended time-wasting and engagement sessions. Twitter users come to the service when they have an extra moment waiting in line, and return throughout the day. Elman (who previously worked at Facebook) said it’s philosophically important for Twitter that the people don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for when they access the service; they just want to be informed. (More on Twitter CEO Evan Williams’ thoughts on that topic here.) Cheng said that it’s more important for people to get a lot out of each visit to the Twitter site than it is for them to spend more time there.
- Ryan Sarver, who leads Twitter’s platform team, talked to me about the relationships Twitter established with 16 media providers — sites like TwitPic and YouTube. These were necessary, he said, because many of the photo sites don’t offer embed codes. Although Twitter photo providers will presumably lose monetizable page views now that users won’t be clicking through to view photos as much, Sarver pointed out the alternative might have been for Twitter to launch its own video and photo hosting service — and none of the third-party providers want that.
- Sarver also talked about deals Twitter made with Kiva and Etsy to display embedded content when users tweet links to their pages. Again, these are a move to display more content formatted inline so users don’t have to click through. You can expect Twitter to expand these widgets to other sites, he said. I asked what Twitter might do to help preview links to web pages; after all Williams said 25 percent of tweets contain links, and not all of them are to media files. Sarver said the company has thought about doing something like pulling full text from RSS feeds when possible, but the problem is RSS is too slow. (Update: even with PubSubHubbub is not broadly enough deployed, Sarver clarified.) Many times people tweet links to articles before it’s ever been transmitted to RSS, and that delay would break the system. An alternative would be to do something like take snippets of stories like the iPad app Flipboard does, but Sarver said he wasn’t sure that was a great solution either, given copyright implications.
- What about the impact of the new Twitter on third-party competitors like Brizzly (where a big part of the appeal has been inline video and photos in a Twitter stream on a web page)? Elman said that he thought good Twitter apps will be more like Zynga on Facebook — a gaming provider that’s turbo-boosted by the social layer — rather than RockYou and Slide, which tried to build features to supplement Facebook itself.
- The new Twitter.com doesn’t include user streams — the real-time updates of tweets that clients like TweetDeck are now offering — but Twitter is working to add this.
- Another big platform project, Annotations, has been put on hold, because the infrastructure team was working on the Twitter.com launch, Sarver said.
- On the new Twitter.com, when you click on a tweet in the left pane, in the right pane you’ll see things like tweets with the same hashtag, or tweets in the same conversation, or tweets in the same place. That’s part of a separate product made by its own team at Twitter called Related Tweets. At some point in the future, Related Tweets will be available for other Twitter clients, including those from outside providers, said Cheng.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):