Twitter teases a bunch of new product features, including new apps and algorithmic filters


During Twitter’s first ever analyst call Wednesday, the company previewed a range of products it’s developing. CEO Dick Costolo, CFO Anthony Noto, and a handful of product leads gave a rundown of what to expect in the coming months.

They didn’t give a ship date for most of the products — aside from a direct messaging update — so it’s hard to know how close these updates are to being built. Twitter may have been trying to stave off analyst anxiety or prove its product team isn’t in shambles after recent high-profile departures. If it’s the former, the effort paid off. Twitter’s stock was up 7.45 percent at stock closing, with $42.54 per share.

Either way, here’s a breakdown of the most important features.

Location-based Twitter

One of the most interesting projects revealed by Twitter is location-based Twitter curation (see below). The company has experimented with the feature in major metropolitan areas, allowing you to view popular tweets coming from certain geographic locations. This is exactly in the vein of popular app Yik Yak, which has taken off in colleges around the country by allowing location-based discussions. In fact, Twitter’s new city-based list feature looks a lot like one Yik Yak’s founders previewed for me.

Twitter's location curated timelines

Twitter’s location curated timelines

A location-based product has a lot of implications for following breaking news and live event coverage. People will be able to digitally drop into somewhere when they want to see what people are discussing and posting. It will also make it easier to verify photos, videos, and information as coming from actual places (a tool that will please journalists).

While you were away

Twitter also showcased a feature that many would consider a big step in the “algorithmic timeline” direction. It’s called “while you were away,” and just as it sounds, it will show you the most popular, relevant, or interesting tweets that surfaced on Twitter when you were logged off. It will appear at the top of your chronological timeline. The product manager who introduced it, Trevor O’Brien, said, “We’re trying to pick a handful of tweets to start.” The key phrase there is “to start;” Twitter didn’t say whether it will expand this feature to take over your timeline if it’s received well.

Screenshot of Twitter's "While you were away" feature

Screenshot of Twitter’s “While you were away” feature

Instant timelines

Algorithms! Yes, the company uttered the dreaded A word. But don’t go hate-tweeting up a storm just yet. The company didn’t say anything about introducing an algorithmically curated newsfeed for existing users, but it will use algorithms to build an instantaneous timeline for new users.

To lower the barrier to entry for these people, Twitter needed a way for them to follow a bunch of accounts within minutes of signing up. So it’s introducing an “interest picker” where users will tell the application the topics they care about. It will also integrate address book uploading, so users can be prompted to follow accounts their friends are interested in.

“This is the first of many ways we’ll use data and algorithms to make our onboarding process simpler for users,” product head Christain Oestlien said. Twitter did not clarify whether or not new users would have the option of skipping this process, so they can curate their timeline from the get go, without any help.

Screenshot of Twitter's interest picker

Screenshot of Twitter’s interest picker

Direct messaging gets a reboot

The company is finally building out its direct messaging feature. Twitter is one of the last social companies left that hasn’t made messaging a priority in recent months. Although direct messaging has existed for awhile, it’s a challenge to use on Twitter and its 140-character limit makes it a pain for communicating privately. The first feature Twitter will introduce, coming next week, is the ability to send a tweet in a direct message, so you can discuss it with another person. More messaging features will be coming in the next twelve months.

Unbundled apps

Twitter will be building individual mobile apps outside of Twitter. “Vine is first, there will be others,” CEO Dick Costolo said. He didn’t give any hint as to what those apps could look like, but it’s interesting that Twitter is considering an unbundled app strategy ala Facebook.

In-app video capture

Twitter will be introducing a way to capture and share video from within the Twitter application itself. At the moment users can film from Vine and cross-share it to Twitter, or upload videos from their camera roll to Twitter after taking them. But video capture features in Twitter itself might both make it easier to share video in tumultuous news situations like Ferguson and increase the ubiquity of video sharing in general. It’s a reminder to users that video is an option, whenever they hit the create button.

Live event curation

Lastly, Twitter said it has plans to expand its curated World Cup experience to other live events. During the World Cup, Twitter has a curated timeline for users to follow the action. In the future, if Twitter can automate it, that may become a feature for smaller occasions. “Our goal is to take our learnings from the World Cup…and scale it not just to tentpole events like the Oscars…but to the next tens of thousands of events that happen through the year,” O’Brien said.


This story has been updated to include Twitter stock’s closing price.

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