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Twitter pulls a Facebook, fills your stream with photos and videos — but will it help or hurt?

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Twitter quietly rolled out a new feature — or irritant, depending on how you look at it — for users of its website on Tuesday, as well as for its iOS and Android apps: photo and video previews now show up as expanded images directly in a tweet, instead of requiring users to click on a link. Some fans of the move welcomed the new feature, but others seemed taken aback by all of the multimedia filling their streams, and by the Facebook-style feel it gives to Twitter.

While the company said in a blog post that it made the changes so that users could enjoy their friends’ photos and videos more easily, it seems fairly obvious that the move is also being driven by a desire to boost Twitter’s advertising revenue. That’s the same thing Facebook sees when it looks at Instagram, as Om notes, and presumably one of the reasons it offered — and then quickly removed — the ability to turn off auto-playing of embedded video clips.

Twitter allows users of its iOS and Android apps to turn off image previews, and also to restrict potentially offensive or adult images, and the Tweetdeck desktop app has a number of controls for blocking or downsizing previews, but there is no such setting for the web version — and most users accept default settings in any case, as Twitter probably knows (the new feature only applies to photos that are hosted by Twitter and to Vine videos).

Here come the banner ads and brand videos

In addition to appealing to advertisers, who now get to insert what amount to banner ads into their streams (and into the streams of users as well, via promoted tweets) the feature is likely aimed at attracting new users and encouraging them to use Twitter — something the tech industry calls “on-boarding.” And some, including former Twitter director of platform Ryan Sarver, pointed out that anyone who is irritated can always block people who over-use the feature.

Despite all of that advice, however, it’s obvious what is happening to Twitter, as it prepares to go public in a couple of weeks and tries to come up with reasons to justify its estimated $15-billion market value: like Facebook, it is focusing on advertising, and in order to do that it has to push more and more content into the stream, and boost engagement levels as high as possible.

But will users be happy, or annoyed?

The problem with doing this, of course, is that it could wind up annoying as many users as it attracts — or more. There have already been anecdotal reports of Facebook use declining, with some users blaming the abundance of advertising, and a group of advertisers told Forrester Research recently that the effectiveness of their ads is a lot lower than they expected, in part because of the noise on the network and a lack of engagement.

In a lot of ways, Twitter is going through much the same transition that the web has since its early days: many pages used to consist largely of text, in part because bandwidth constraints and browsers didn’t allow for much in the way of imagery. As the web matured, pages began to include more and more pictures and even video, in an attempt to get more users to click — especially on ads. But that never really happened, and in the process the web got quite ugly.

Twitter is also arguably in more danger of suffering from what some call the MySpace effect (an excess of ads and gaudy images) than some other services, because until fairly recently it was such a stripped-down, text-heavy experience. Then along came expanded tweets or Twitter “cards,” and the writing was on the wall. But will the number of enthusiastic advertisers make up for the number of irritated and/or overwhelmed users?

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Shutterstock / olly

15 Responses to “Twitter pulls a Facebook, fills your stream with photos and videos — but will it help or hurt?”

  1. Norm Powell

    I tried to tweet a photograph from my account directly and through Flickr and could not see an embedded picture from my account or a test account I set up…

    There must be a trick here?

    • but far more annoying than clicking Expand or View Image, particularly since the embedded images are cropped all to hell.

      so what Twatter has done is denied everybody the ability to have tiny, often discreet animated-GIF avatars where we choose to follow them, and given to businesses the ability to have /huge/, always garish animated-GIF ads (read, banners) jammed in our feed via Promotions, changing from a happy little bluebird to a nasty squawking crow. #LowerYourMortgageDotCom

  2. Someone posted a NSFW picture yesterday and I couldn’t ‘unshow’ it at all.

    I use Twitter at work, and while I don’t shy away from NSFW content, I wouldn’t have clicked on the link during normal office hours, but had no choice with the expanded preview timeline.

  3. Can’t see what the problems is here.

    You will only see videos and photos from people you have chosen to follow.
    I occasionally see ‘promoted tweets’ in my timeline but they showing things I am actually
    interested in, unlike FB which pushes anything.

    A few times I have RT promoted tweets.
    If you don’t like what people are tweeting, don’t follow them!


    • astronerdboy

      Wouldn’t it be just awesome if the people you follow start posting NSFW stuff? Wouldn’t it be even more awesome if ALL of the folks you follow did that so you don’t follow anyone? Just saying…

  4. Chris McCoy

    Smart move by Twitter.

    Should improve engagement for us normals by 3x-5x which is necessary to keep us crediting the system with content over time.

    If our content and thoughts are the credits we invest into Twitter, then engagement (Favorites, RTs, replies) are the debits we take out.

    They feed the currency of self-expression.

    Too bad Twitter and celebrities are the only one’s making any money on the credits!

    Regardless, great thinking by Mike D. and the team.

    Chris McCoy

  5. J0nathan A1bright

    One line of code (Chrome/Firefox AdBlock) to stop javascript pre-loading of large images in Twitter feed. Everything else stays the same. ##A[class=”twitter-timeline-link media-thumbnail is-preview”]