Twitter just threw a lifeline to the content industry

SoundCloud tweet

Twitter just achieved a holy trinity of snackable multimedia: you could already view Instagram pictures and YouTube videos within tweets, but now you can also listen to SoundCloud sounds without ever leaving Twitter.com.

If it sounds a little Facebook-ey, it should — this, along with the other parts of the ‘expanded tweets’ announcement, shows Twitter stepping up far more explicitly than before as Facebook’s most plausible rival. Deals with the likes of SoundCloud and DailyMotion square up to the media embeds found on Facebook’s profile walls, while partnerships with The New York Times, Der Spiegel and others provide a counterpart to Facebook’s content apps.

Mathew has recently put forward some strong arguments for why the mainstream media should see Twitter as a competitor, or even a threat, but with the announcement of expanded tweets it’s worth re-evaluating what the platform has to offer, particularly in comparison to Facebook.

Because it looks to me like Twitter just extended not only an olive branch to the content industry, but a lifeline too.

Who’s in control?

As Berlin VC Ciarán O’Leary astutely pointed out a couple of months back, “Facebook is turning into AOL – it wants to be ‘the internet’.”

For media firms, an app pact with Facebook is Faustian by nature: it may achieve virality, but it involves letting Facebook keep their customers within the confines of its walled garden. There’s a whiff of desperation about the whole idea, like record companies trying to mitigate declining sales by giving up control to Apple.

Twitter, on the other hand, is all about links to the rest to the web. Yes, snack-size content like sounds, pictures and short videos will probably be consumed within the Twitter environment. But Twitter’s fast-moving nature will also lead a lot of people to click through to the original site so they can go back to their stream view.

In SoundCloud’s case, for example, the firm is not only getting its content out there more, but also gaining a way to invite people back to its own environment.

And as for longer-form content providers such as the newspapers, they’re getting a preview facility more analogous to that provided by Google News than anything else. Except this time they’re giving their explicit permission, thus avoiding the type of rancor seen in Germany, where some publishers claim Google News snippets steal their content without permission. Previews like these are drivers of traffic, not ends in themselves.

Easy reading

Most importantly, viewing the story won’t involve installing yet another app that comes with a number of why-do-they-need-this permissions. It will simply mean clicking through to a normal website — crucially, the one owned and controlled by the content producer. With Facebook’s ad framework still not a sure thing, there should be some comfort in that.

Twitter has also made sure that its expanded tweets let the reader follow the profile of the story’s publisher or writer. That’s pretty much analogous to liking a Facebook page in this context, but it rounds out Twitter’s offering nicely.

Sure, getting into bed with Twitter does carry some risk. Just as Google News gave news providers a helping hand while also changing the rules of their game, the type of curation that sneaks in from commercial deals could end up having more than a promotional effect.

But overall, it doesn’t look like a bad deal. Twitter product team director Michael Sippey described expanded tweets in Wednesday’s announcement as the “easy new way to discover content from the web”. Note: not “to discover content within Twitter”.

As a content provider, I’d be a lot cooler with that approach than with Facebook’s. And as someone who loves the open nature of the web, I’m glad someone’s giving the content industry an alternative to Zuck’s walled garden.

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