Twitter has had a rough couple of quarters. The microblogging platform has had some issues with user growth and profitability. Many in the media feel that these difficulties are due to the fact that many people just don’t “get” Twitter.
Perhaps in an effort to make its product and interface more user-friendly, Twitter revealed a new feature for its web interface: trend descriptions.
Earlier in April, Twitter began displaying descriptions next to trending topics for its mobile users. These descriptions provide context around a trending topic or hashtag to help people understand it better.
The descriptions, in some cases, include the number of tweets sent and which direction the topic is trending – up or down. The feature was only made available for people in the United States who had enabled tailored trends.
This new approach to the trending topics was placed on the search page, instead of the Discover tab, which has been removed entirely. Since Twitter is attempting to integrate discovery into the main timeline, this would make the Discover tab unnecessary.
The descriptions will mostly consist of one to three things:
- The description itself, which is a short text description about the topic
- An image that relates to the topic
- Twitter-specific information, such as the number of tweets, how long the topic has been trending, and the direction of the trend
These developments come after concern over Twitter’s ailing user growth statistics. So it’s no secret that these numbers are spurring action. Most media outlets agree that the company is trying to improve the casual user’s experience of the product in an effort to gain and retain more people.
Twitter’s Rocky Growth and Plan for Recovery
Early in February, the company reported stronger-than-expected earnings, but weaker-than-expected user growth. In the fourth quarter of 2014, user growth was up 1.4%, the lowest in its history. While the fourth quarter appears to be Twitter’s weakest quarter for user growth, this number had many people worried.
And to make things worse, Twitter’s first-quarter 2015 numbers were even worse. Profits were $20 million lower than expected and its stock plummeted as a result. User growth was up, but the company doesn’t expect to turn a profit this year.
While Twitter’s hardcore user base has kept the microblogging platform strong over the past several years, a few facts have some in the industry worried:
- Twitter’s interface hasn’t really evolved over the years
- Its user statistics, such as its MAU count, are somewhat dubious
- People leave Twitter for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common are Twitter’s lack of filtering tools, the lack of friends and acquaintances on the network, and the fact that Twitter’s not that easy to understand.
For years, Twitter has been held afloat by an avid user base. To these users, Twitter was the ultimate microblogging platform and social network. And perhaps this user base has contributed to the company’s unwillingness to change…after all, if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
But Twitter hasn’t been growing or evolving its platform in the same way that many other networks have. And lots of people have still been complaining that they don’t get Twitter.
These reasons must have hit home, since many of the changes to Twitter address these complaints.
Here are a few of the changes the company has been making to the interface:
Some people love the fact that algorithms don’t manipulate the Twitter feed. But others complain this creates information overload. And the more people you follow, the more your timeline becomes crowded with tweets you don’t necessarily need or read.
In response, Twitter began experimenting with a few features to make the timeline easier to use.
The Highlights feature, released for Android users, summarizes the days tweets once or twice a day via notifications.
Another, similar feature, “While You Were Away,” puts the most relevant and interesting tweets at the top of your feed.
Facebook has its own native video app, which allows people to host videos directly on the social network.
Since most social networks realize the high demand for video and image-based content, they are all rushing to include these features in their services. Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Vine are just a few of the platforms that are capitalizing on consumer demand for video content.
Twitter also launched a live video app called Periscope, similar to Meerkat and Google’s live streaming capabilities.
Will These Changes Be Enough?
Twitter certainly hopes so.
Twitter’s lack of responsiveness over the years has left it lagging.
Now, the flurry of recent features and interface updates look like an attempt to catch up to other platforms. And the interface’s new sorting features, trend descriptions, video support, and other features will certainly make the app more friendly to use.
But in a competitive social landscape, with so many apps to choose from…will it be enough?
Only time will tell.