Last week, Wall Street met Twitter's first public earnings report with a cool reception, leading many analysts to speculate about what, if anything, the social media company could do to hold its own next to heavyweights like Facebook and LinkedIn, both of which had made the precarious leap from shaky startup to publicly traded company. And even though the company did slightly better than analyst expectations, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo made sure to emphasize in his first earnings calls that company was already working on new "media-forward" interfaces so it could "continue to scale revenue by expanding [its] global reach."
"By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background," Costolo said, "we can increase high-quality interactions and make it more likely that new or casual users will find this service as indispensable as our existing core users do."
Well, that was fast.
As was first spotted by Mashable, the company has already started to introduce a major restructuring of its entire interface. Twitter goes through a lot of redesigns, of course, and rarely (if ever) prepares its users for them the same way that, say, Facebook does whenever it tells its users they're going to have to prepare for a completely different version of the social network, like it or not.
But what's interesting about this potential new Twitter is just how different it looks compared to, well, Twitter. Really, it doesn't look like Twitter at all. There are a few adjustments that continued to refine established trends in Twitter's frequent redesigns. The user's main picture and bio has been shunted even closer to the left side of the screen, giving more space to a large (1500 x 500 pixel) cover photo. The most dramatic shift, however, is how it's changing the tweets themselves. Rather than the ever-unfolding vertical line of text-based messages, the redesign places them in a mosaic-like pattern that helps highlight visual content like photos and video.
It looks snazzy, no doubt. But it also bears an uncanny resemblance to the tile-based interfaces of other popular social networks like, say, Google+ and Pinterest. Ok, maybe just Pinterest.
There's an obvious commercial element at play here given Costolo's own comments about the redesign. It's not hard to imagine the company adopting this kind of boxy format to help the network become more appealing to advertisers, for instance, since promoted tweets and other kinds of promotional still get buried in a newsfeed all too easily. And a more visually focused redesign could also help attract a new casual breed of users to the network as well.
But then again, the democratic minimalism of Twitter is a big part of its charm for many of its most dedicated users. The thought of brands being able to buy their way into a bigger spread on someone's page is anathema to this, as is the thought of "dumbing down" the service (so to speak) for people who are overwhelmed by the networks insular culture of catch phrases, hashtags, and ridiculous acronyms.
Twitter is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to revamping its look and feel, therefore. Like Microsoft tried to do with the Xbox One last year when it started calling it an "all-in-one entertainment system" rather than a gaming console, Twitter wants to rebrand itself as a more family-friendly product without alienating its core group of power users in the process. That worked out decently enough for Microsoft, but still left many gamers with a bad taste in their mouth—which helps explain why its close competitor Sony has been outselling it with its new PlayStation 4.
But still, these are video game consoles. A lot of people are going to buy both of them. The business of maintaining a social network that free for the vast majority of its users is a much more convoluted process than selling people a chunk of hardware for several hundred dollars. So Costolo and co. still face a pressing question: How much can they change Twitter while still keeping it the same?