Neville Hobson

For now, Twitter is what you make it

new-twitterbird Twitter‘s all over the news today, not only tech but also general, reporting and commenting on its announcement yesterday of "a new, re-engineered Twitter.com that provides an easier, faster, and richer experience."

In essence, Twitter has re-designed the website with some significant technical enhancements and interface improvements in how you use it and interact with the content from your community and others, the first major changes since the service was started in 2006.

Check the links above for detailed commentary and opinion by many different people. Or, to get a visual sense of it, watch the nice and well-made official Twitter video.

The new-look site will be rolled out over the coming weeks, Twitter says, so it’s likely you won’t see much for a bit.

Of course, if you use a third-party app to interact with Twitter –  I do, primarily TweetDeck on the desktop, sometimes Seesmic; and Twidroyd on my HTC Desire – website changes such as those announced won’t make much difference to you (assuming nothing changes in how third-party apps interact with Twitter).

The look-and-feel news has overshadowed something that I think is far more significant – defining what Twitter is and isn’t.

What is Twitter to you right now? A tool to broadcast? A place to engage? A listening channel? It can be all of those things, and more, depending on where you see the value in it. Even a social network, a place of community where you engage with people you’ve formed connections with. That’s how I see it, certainly. Indeed, this is the primary place I do engage with people. Not on Facebook or any other social networking site, nor with Google Buzz, Friendfeed, etc, but Twitter.

That’s not how Twitter sees themselves today, though, according to Kevin Thau, Twitter’s VP for business and corporate development, in a presentation he made yesterday at Nokia World 2010 in London.

Writing in ReadWriteWeb yesterday, Sarah Perez reported that "Thau announced that everyone’s favorite micro-blogging network is not actually a social network."

[…] It’s not, you say?

No, says Thau: Twitter is for news. Twitter is for content. Twitter is for information.

To those of us in the tech industry, proclaiming that Twitter’s main focus is not its social aspects, but its news-delivering mechanisms, is a bit like stating the obvious. But it’s important that Twitter is now publicly acknowledging how people’s perception of the service have changed in this regard, not to mention how their usage patterns have changed too.

I think Sarah’s dead right – Twitter is evolving rapidly, how people perceive it and what it does for them, and how they use it, is shifting. And not everyone defines Twitter the same way.

What’s significant is how such a statement from an authoritative voice at the company projects how Twitter themselves define what Twitter is as it suggests a clearer focus on the possible direction the company is taking (personally, I think Twitter intends to be a media company).

To be fair to Thau, I haven’t seen his presentation so can only rely on the RWW post and photos.  Someone WTF’d him yesterday on Twitter, to which he replied:

@lesanto just trying to make the point that Twitter has lots of great content and it is ok if users just want to consume.

Possibly a bit of back-peddling on the message in the photo above?

It wasn’t that long ago that Twitter’s Biz Stone described Twitter as a communication network, as Candace Kuss pointed out to me earlier today.

Whatever anyone thinks Twitter is, what really matters is what you think it is. If the service accommodates your usage requirement, then that’s well and good.

For now anyway. Things are evolving fast.

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