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Twitter's Fly redesign looks to be faster, simpler and more personal

December 8, 2011 | 12:56 pm

Twitter has redesigned its service to make it simpler, faster and more personalized in an effort to broaden its appeal.

The new version of Twitter, which will roll out to users by the end of the year, is geared toward getting people to use the service more frequently and for longer, and giving advertisers more reasons to spend their dollars there.

Jack Dorsey, a Twitter founder and chairman of the board, summed it up as: “Less places to click, less stuff to learn.”

He added the upgrades to the service were just the beginning of a new push at Twitter -- and some of the first signs of things to come now that Dorsey has taken on such a major role at the company.

"These are just the first steps," said Dorsey as he demonstrated the new Twitter for the media, including the home icon (a birdhouse) and a quill icon to compose messages.

In a gesture to the foundation the company says it is laying with its product redesign, Twitter unveiled the redesign in its new headquarters still under construction in a historic Art Deco building on a blighted stretch of Market Street in San Francisco.

"We are setting the foundation so we can move quickly and most importantly innovate quickly," said Dorsey who divides his time between Twitter and mobile payments company Square.

Dorsey said Twitter is simplifying and personalizing its service to address one of its biggest challenges:  Even though many people know what Twitter is, they still don't know how or even why they should use it.

When people first alight on the site or sign up to use the service, Twitter will help them discover information most likely to interest them by registering signals such as their location. In the coming year, Dorsey said to expect an increased emphasis on that kind of "discovery" to "bubble up" the most relevant Tweets, messages of up to 140 characters in length that users broadcast.

The new look of Twitter tries to capture some of Apple's minimalist magic by stripping away unnecessary features and making the service simpler and more intuitive to use.

"We are going to offer simplicity in a world of complexity," Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo said.

The idea is to cut through the jargon such as hashtags (#) and @ handles to help casual users get the hang of the service as easily as its power users.

"Twitter should be usable by those who know the shortcuts and those who don't," Dorsey said.

The new Twitter design extends to iOS and Android apps. More than half of Twitter's members reach the site through mobile devices, Costolo said in September.

The jury's still out on whether the design changes will lure new users, said Greg Sterling, founder of the consulting firm Sterling Market Intelligence.

"A lot of people still won't see the need," Sterling said.

Twitter significantly overhauled its website a year ago in a redesign it called #NewTwitter. Costolo fired off a tweet to his team Thursday, praising them for their work on #NewNewTwitter. Twitter's nickname for the redesign: #LetsFly.

Twitter says more than 100 million people actively use the service, with the majority of those accounts overseas.

Twitter is vying to become an online advertising powerhouse to rival Google and Facebook. Dorsey said on average, 3% to 5% of people engage with ads on Twitter, a higher percentage than other forms of online advertising. But Twitter must compete for advertising dollars with Google, which dominates search advertising and increasingly display advertising, and social networking giant Facebook, which has more than 850 million users.

Costolo said the company is rolling out its widely anticipated "self-serve" system that lets anyone buy ads on Twitter. It's also letting brands such as American Express and organizations such as the American Red Cross to customize their own Twitter pages.

Twitter's advertising business is expected to generate about $140 million this year, up from $45 million last year, according to EMarketer. Twitter may generate $260 million in ad revenue in 2012, the research firm said.

In August, its worth was pegged at more than $8 billion in its latest funding round. It now has more than 700 employees who will move into the new headquarters in mid-2012. The office space has room for thousands.

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-- Jessica Guynn

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