Today, Twitter has announced an update to its apps for iOS and Android as well as TweetDeck for Web, Chrome and PC (and Mac soon) that bring a renewed focus on direct messaging. The app now features a direct link to Direct Messages in the tab bar and allows you to send photos inside DMs for the first time.
This major redesign has been in the works for a while, and today marks the first time we’ve seen most of these elements all in one place. Twitter has been testing a variety of these features over the past few weeks, but now they’re all packaged together. You may have seen the DM icon in the tab bar or heard of some users getting a swipeable timeline design as a part of Twitter’s ongoing experiments which see just a small percentage of users getting each permutation of the design. Those experiments are then used to determine which features hit the app itself.
We had heard this release was coming and now we know which features made the cut. There is a bunch of new stuff in this update, but the addition of photo support to DMs and the enhanced placement of the icon right in the tab bar indicated a renewed interest in the private messaging portion of Twitter — which has been long neglected.
By putting an emphasis on direct messaging, Twitter is performing its own sort of subtweet towards other messaging apps like Line, WhatsApp, Snapchat and, soon, Instagram. The DM function of Twitter is heavily used by a lot of users, but my guess is that some of the changes here will spur mainstream adoption of DMs as a ‘private comms channel’.
The addition of Messages to the tab bar also bumps Discover from the main view. That’s now tucked under Timelines as a whole. You now swipe between those timelines in the main view. Timeline, Activity and Discover are all under the single tab now. On one hand, this is a great space saver and feels like a welcome move. As we noted previously, this also makes way for even more timelines:
The idea behind a swipeable interface is fairly easy to divine, as it could make the app friendly to multiple timelines. If these feeds could be treated as discreet items, Twitter could move beyond its ‘Home,’ ‘Connect’ and ‘Discover’ feeds to offer more specific feeds focused on things like TV. And, judging from how #Music went, that seems to be the way that it’s headed.
On the other hand, it does raise some worries about discoverability for the…discover…tab. There’s a handy lead-in animation and instructable that tells people about the new timelines, so that’s good. But there might be a tendency to forget that those sections are hidden under the single tab. Does this change consist of Twitter acknowledging that people get more out of DMs or notifications than they do Discover? Maybe? It’s likely to be the subject of even more experimentation going forward.
There is now a filtration option under the Notifications tab that lets you show stuff from just people you follow, all people or (if you’re verified) just verified people.
There are also some new notifications to be seen. The one above is interesting as it ties in with Twitter’s interest in getting people to engage in ‘conversations’ on the service. The ‘blue lines’ update was obviously all about that and other changes made to the apps recently reinforce that they’re trying to get people to see it as a place where you can talk to anyone and anyone can talk back at any time. They’re fighting, somewhat, the perception that Twitter is a spectator sport for most users. This way, if someone takes the plunge and sends a tweet, they get notified of feedback and are encouraged to continue.
But, despite all of the other changes, this is quite clearly Twitter’s way of saying that they’re interested in being your private messaging client as much as they are your ‘public discussion forum’. As we mentioned above, there are dozens of competitors around the world looking to capture the majority of users, and services like WhatsApp, Kik and Line have enormous head starts. Twitter currently has somewhere around 232 million monthly active users, and WhatsApp recently reported it had 350 million. Even though Twitter has had a several-year head start on the newer messaging apps, it has a lot of ground to gain and more finessing to do if it wants to make itself a go-to solution for that market.
But the benefits will be well worth the effort. When people using messaging apps, they use them a lot. If Twitter can position itself as an Internet ‘pillar’ that provides communication tools both public and private, it gains more than just users — it gains engaged eyeballs that it can use to get more and better business from advertisers.
TweetDeck for Web, Chrome and PC are all getting the DMs with photo support as well, and the Mac version is coming once it’s approved in the Mac App Store.
Image Credit: Christopher Schmidt