Twitter muddies the timeline, sights set on competitors and IPO

 Buttons to reply, retweet, and favorite now accompany each tweet. Photos and videos are shown by default, a feature that can be disabled.

Buttons to reply, retweet, and favorite now accompany each tweet. Photos and videos are shown by default, a feature that can be disabled.

Twitter released an update to its website and mobile apps today, adding actions and inline media to the timeline where the majority of tweets are consumed. These two updates seem to have the social network's impending IPO in mind as the adjustments promise to increase engagement and bring the visual experience closer to that of competing platforms like Instagram.

Users of Twitter's mobile apps have long been able to swipe a tweet in their timeline to gain access to the popular actions reply, retweet, and favorite. Similarly on desktop, hovering over a tweet revealed the same options. With Twitter's latest update, its core actions are accessible at all times for every tweet in your timeline. Twitter likely wants to drive more engagement with content, especially from the majority of users who are likely consuming a lot but not necessarily engaging or authoring original content. Last Twitter shared with us, 40% of users don't actively tweet and 25% have never tweeted. The more engagement Twitter gets out of users, the more brands are likely to flock to the platform and spend ad dollars. The downside of user experience changes like this is the timeline is now noisy with icon after icon. One aspect of Twitter's appeal has been its content and conversations with everything else just behind the curtain. 

Twitter also brought photos and videos to the foreground today. Previously, such visual content was an action away, hidden behind links like and Clicking or touching a tweet containing media revealed the content inside. Now images and videos appear right in the flow of the the timeline requiring no interaction from the user. The result is a much more visual experience, something Twitter likely feels pressured to move toward in light of Facebook increasing its emphasis on visual content and Instagram focusing on such from day one. Twitter has long had photo filters to compete with Instagram and even beat the rival to the punch with video thanks to Vine. But filters and video clips are no good if your platform doesn't strongly reward visual content, especially in a land of 140 characters. If the average English word is five characters and a picture is worth 1,000 words...well, you get the idea. The average user will discover more photos and video than ever before. Brands must be excited as statistically images drive more engagement from users than a simple text-based post. I personally already like the new inline media approach. It has brought life to my timeline and sped up my consumption of visual content, which previously required me to open and then close a photo just to see what someone shared. Most people don't like change, but give the new feature a chance. If you truly don't like it after a week or two, inline media can be disabled in the mobile apps' settings–but not on the website.

In the end, I think we'll realize a net gain from Twitter's updates today. A lot of my fellow power users aren't fond of the changes, but this move is geared toward the majority who are consumption-only. 

Chris Fohlintwitter