As flagged recently by Bloomberg (and reported by us), Twitter is about to unload a whole range of changes that could have significant bearing on how people use the platform. Will they be enough to re-awaken the micro-blog giant and get more people to tweet? That's impossible to say, but the changes are definitely interesting, and they continue the platform's ongoing efforts to push new innovations without compromising their core functionality.
Here's what Twitter's announced, all of which to be rolled out "in the coming months":
1. "@names" Will No Longer Be Counted in Replies
The first change relates to how you converse via tweet. When you're replying to several people at once, it can sometimes be difficult to contextualize exactly what you're intending to say to within the few characters you have left once you've included their @handles.
To improve the conversation flow, Twitter's removing @names from the 140 character count on replies.
Now, my first thought was "oh here we go, Spam City", thinking that people will now be able to include a billion @handles in their spam tweets and not have them count towards the character limit. But that's not how it works, as Twitter explains here:
@JeffTutorials @ names like those in your Tweet will still count as characters - it's only the @ names you're replying to that won't count.- Twitter (@twitter) May 24, 2016
So it's only the @handles you're replying to that won't be included in the count. Any @handles you include in a new tweet, or new ones you add to a conversation, will still be included in the 140 character limit.
2. Media Attachments Will no Longer Count as Characters
As per Twitter:
"When you add attachments like photos, GIFs, videos, polls, or Quote Tweets, that media will no longer count as characters within your Tweet. More room for words"
Currently, when you add in either one or four photos (the maximum allowed), a video, a poll or you quote a tweet, it takes up 24 characters of your 140 limit. So Twitter's essentially giving you those 24 characters back. It may not seem like a major addition, but it actually equates to just over 17% more space for text.
How will that impact on the Twitter experience? You'd think not alot - it'll provide more context within each of these types of tweets, and it'll mean some tweets are slightly more text heavy, but it shouldn't expand the look and feel of the process, which was the biggest concern when this change was first rumored.
Initial reports had suggested that Twitter would stop counting links in tweets, which, as we noted at the time, could be problematic, in that spammers might be able to hijack your tweet stream by creating massive, link-riddled messages, so there'd be a need to put a limit on exactly how many links you could add in. Such a move would also have major implications for services like Bit.ly - if links were no longer counted, you'd no longer need link shorteners (granted Bit.ly's services offer much more than just link shortening, but it's a significant element of what they provide).
As it turns out, that's not what's being developed, and this solution is more contained, more within the existing limitations of the platform. And more in-tune with the existing user experience.
3. Re-tweet Yourself
Have you ever come up with a tweet so perfect that you, yourself, wanted to re-tweet it just to celebrate how great your abbreviated missive skills are? Soon you'll be able to. Twitter's adding the ability to Re-tweet and Quote Tweet your own content.
According to Twitter:
"...so you can easily Retweet or Quote Tweet yourself when you want to share a new reflection or feel like a really good one went unnoticed."
Oh, it actually is to re-tweet your coolest tweets, I was kinda' joking. But there's more functionality to this option than just repeating your own jokes (and no doubt your followers will eventually get sick of you re-tweeting your classic zingers if that's all you do, over and over again).
By re-tweeting your own content, you can expose your tweets to a whole new audience at a different time or day. You can do similar through scheduling tweets, of course, but this will give you the option of quickly and easily giving your tweets a secondary boost, if you need.
So how many times can you re-tweet yourself? Twitter hasn't specified, but it's likely you'll only be able to Re-tweet and Quote Tweet each of your messages once - otherwise you'd be able to skew your stats by giving yourself a thousand re-tweets on every post. Although, that would also annoy your followers no end, so maybe it'd work itself out.
In terms of data, you'd also expect that your own re-tweets won't count in your official stats. Though even if they did, the reach of an owned re-tweet would effectively be zero (as it's coming back to you), so they wouldn't add much, other than a couple more vanity points.
4. No More Full-Stops to Start a Tweet
I'm kind of torn on this one.
One of the easiest ways for Twitter elitists to identify those who don't know what they're doing is to see people tweeting something like:
Because that tweet won't go to all of your followers, it'll only go to the handle you've directly mentioned - in this case being HubSpot. So you're essentially telling HubSpot - and only HubSpot - about their own blog. Classic.
Well Twitter's changing that. Once the new changes roll out, Tweets that begin with a username will reach all your followers - meaning you'll no longer have to use the ".@" convention.
It makes sense, it's a minor annoyance when you're starting out - and, as noted, a minor point for experienced Twitter users to hold over others. But it feels like we're losing something of Twitter's judgemental soul with this change.
But either way, you'd expect the impact will be fairly minimal.
So those are them, those are the four big changes Twitter's rolling out "in the coming months". And that element of the announcement, in itself, is interesting.
By announcing that the changes are coming, rather than unloading them straight away, Twitter's taking cues from Facebook as to how to roll out a major change and limit disruption. Over time, Facebook's learned how to evolve their platform in a steady, progressive way which limits the amount of backlash.
Facebook learned early on that unloading big changes on your users can quickly turn sour, if not handled correctly. This was most evident when Facebook switched to an algorithm defined timeline - users were furious and many migrated to other platforms in response. Facebook adapted to this, and they've since started flagging any major changes well in advance of their actual rollout. 'Reactions' is a great example - Facebook knew that users would lose their minds about the addition of new post response options, so they announced Reactions in October 2015, four months before they were actually rolled out to all users. Why? Because after the initial announcement, there was the backlash - but most people didn't actually have Reactions to test for themselves, so it subsided quickly. Then when the feature was actually released, the response was far more subdued. People had already vented their initial anger, they'd already said what they wanted about the feature. And because that negativity had already played out, more users were likely to give Reactions a go and test them out for themselves, rather than riding on the back of the initial wave of criticism.
Instagram's now done the same with their algorithm - the platform announced their coming algorithm in mid-March, which sparked a flood of negative response. But the algorithm isn't live yet, so that criticism has now petered out. And when Instagram's algorithm does actually roll-out - and going on Facebook's implementation timeline, that'll be in about July - the backlash will be far less intense.
Twitter now looks to be taking a similar line and announcing the changes proactively, then letting people vent their concerns before rolling them out to lessen the potential backlash.
As we've noted before, Twitter's caught in a bit of a tough spot in regards to what it can do to rejuvenate the network. If you remove the 140 character limit, you lose the platform's key differentiator, which could be the first step towards obsolescence, but if you maintain things as they are, nothing will change. User growth will stay flat. Ad spending will decline. Twitter has to do something - likely several things - in order to get back on track and re-awaken enthusiasm for the network. The big thing on the horizon for Twitter is their NFL rights deal, which will see them live-stream Thursday Night Football. Whether that sinks or swims will be a huge deal for Twitter - if they can make it work, Twitter could move back into pole position as the key platform for real-time and live news and events.
But if it doesn't, there could be bigger changes on the way for the mico-blog platform.
The changes announced today are not revolutionary, they likely won't change Twitter's fate one way or another, in the wider scheme. But they are significant, and they're another move towards the next evolution of the platform. And evolution is crucial for Twitter's long-term prospects.