Why the new Twitter is a load of old Twit

29 Sep


Check out the end of this blog for a thoughtful response from John Furnari of  bigMETHOD, a California digital marketing agency.

I wasn’t going to talk about Twitter’s new web layout but, not for the first time, the thought of McDonald’s made me want to ramble angrily until someone told me everything would be okay.

“What’s McDonald’s got to do with the price of fillet o fish?” you’re asking.

Well, the link is that the burger chain’s head of social media, Rick Wion, was evangelising about the new look Twitter at the, ahem, Tweekend.

Rick’s the guy who claimed Ronald’s recent Foursquare promotion increased customers by 33% across America. (Seem like a lot? It’s equivalent to seven million people – or seven times the actual number of active Foursquare users worldwide….hey, hang on!)

I’m not saying you should be suspicious of everything Rick says about social media – more that you should be suspicious of everything he says. So I challenged him on his cheerleading for #newtwitter (here’s the exchange – Rick’s Twitter name is @rdublife)

To give Rick his dues, he acknowledged what I see as the obvious flaw with the new Twitter, which brings me to the obvious flaw with the new Twitter.

It has completely screwed up branded backgrounds. It’s Twucked them right up.

I’ll tell you what this means and why it’s worrying but first – for those of you who got so drunk on Christmas Day, you only came round yesterday morning – here’s what’s been going on at Twitter.

The ‘homepage’ has been divided into two panels. The left hand side looks the like the previous entire page, with the familiar column of tweets from the people you follow. The right hand side displays extra info related to links displayed in the tweets. Twitter has done deals with various image and video-sharing sites, like Flickr and YouTube so it can embed content in this area.

The Twitter Tweeple themselves have a reasonable stab at explaining it in their blog but, basically, what it means is you don’t have to leave the website to look at the many images and films that are tweeted to all of us on a daily basis – they’ll appear in the right hand panel.

This, of course, means Twitter will be able to raise more dough from advertisers to sponsor tweets – because people will spend more time at twitter.com.

So, what’s wrong with all that?

Well, here’s the 1024 pixel-wide display of NBC’s page, which is the screen size most web users have these days.

The big problem is that there will be less (or even no) space available on either side of the screen to see the background ‘wallpaper’.

People use this area to give information about themselves or the brand the profile represents. It might include contact details, a logo or a visually appealing bio.

It’s tricky creating a background that will make the information visible on the various screen sizes people use. Look at mine.

It sort of works but it’s just okay.

Some small and medium-sized businesses have paid through the nose for designers to make them a background image that will work on all sized screens. Others have put a lot of time into designing their own. Some consultancies have spent a fortune offering free tools to guide businesses.

To exacerbate the problem, the new interface is being offered to Twitter users on a staggered basis – so there will be a lot of brands/individuals still using the old Twitter who will have no idea that their background information is not properly viewable to the many users of the new Twitter.

The lesson here is that people, businesses and brands do not own their Twitter profiles. Twitter does.

Twitter boss Biz Stone (the Twief Executive?) and his friends can make changes on a whim.

It’s the first time they’ve done anything nearly this radical in the site’s four year history but this sort of Twenanigans goes on all the time over at Facebook.

For example, brands spent millions driving people to fan pages and then, suddenly, Facebook decided they weren’t going to call them fan pages anymore.

Facebook had a two and a half hour outage last week. For the huge brands, like Ford Motor Company, who are now sending their customers to their Facebook page, rather than their own websites – this was a problem over which they had zero control and that they could not fix.

So businesses should build in resilience to the problems that can be caused when these sites don’t do what we want them to.

Me? I hate the Twitter web interface – always have. It’s slow and the novelty of the fail whale has long since worn off.

I use Tweetdeck on my Macbook Pro and on my iPhone because it has great interactivity and allows you to scan across several columns of standing searches or view multiple profiles simultaneously. So the new Twitter doesn’t really affect me.

But it’s still far and away the most popular way to view Twitter, according to CEO Evan Williams.

So the background issue IS (and will continue to be) a problem until everyone realises what a steaming pile of old Twit the twitter.com website really is.


John Furnari, of bigMETHOD made some intelligent and thought-provoking points (on Twitter) in response to this blog – and I felt they merited reproduction here.

In essence, he did not agree that the background issue was a big deal. I’m reproducing the exact text – so bear in mind it reflects the usual length restrictions, abbreviations and the other conventions of Twitter

@michael_taggart Gotta say, I think the bkgrnd issue is a non issue…i do feel a slight regret seeing the branding opp. disappear, but in the grand scheme its kinda inline with Twitter’s point…you’re now forced to say it all in the description, like you are in each 140 char. message…the focus now becomes what you say, and due to the new integrations, what you share…when you land on a #newtwitter profile, you now think “what are they sharing” not “who do they say they are”

Great point John – thanks. Are you using the new Twitter? What do you think?

One Response to “Why the new Twitter is a load of old Twit”

  1. John Furnari October 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Michael, thanks for the nod there.

    Reading the whole piece again I stopped for a bit and stared at what you bolded “The lesson here is that people, businesses and brands do not own their Twitter profiles. Twitter does.”

    Such a great point. We all know this, but everyone’s soon to forget. We heard a lot of grumblings when Facebook changed the dimensions of their FBML tabs, about investment in the platform gone awry. Definitely something everyone putting $ into social creative should be aware of.


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