As Twitter places greater importance on mobile, another section that the company is developing and making progress with is the searching of and discovery of new content. It’s made strides towards this by sending out email updates with curated tweets, but its latest app update places it front and centre of the experience. If you were to compare it to another site’s feature, you could say that Twitter’s discovery section is its equivalent of Facebook’s news ticker: It gives you information without intruding on your main news feed.
Yet, on the Web (and the old Twitter app), it felt very much like it fell short of what it was trying to achieve. For one, the steps required to see how your friends are interacting was rather inconvenient, and the tweets you see appear mightn’t even correlate with your interests. There was nothing that would convince you to check it, and when you did, you were presented with tweets you mightn’t even care about.
Now that Twitter’s updated its iOS and Android app, it’s taken a different approach to a familiar section. From first impressions, this mightn’t sound particularly revolutionary, but what it does do is bring a section that acted more like an afterthought into something you will want to explore.
When you first open the app, the first thing you will notice is the greater prominence search has been given. Appearing at the top-right hand corner, it’s a simple move that should have happened when Twitter properly updated mobile search last year. Before that, you would have to go into discovery to find search so this is both a logical and welcome decision.
Looking at the feed too, you will see a small, cosmetic change, but an important one. Links are how highlighted in the feed itself so if you know you want to read an article or explore a link, you don’t have to expand the tweet first, you can just tap it and you’ll be brought to that Web page. It’s another minor change, but it’s one that makes the process of hopping in and out of your newsfeed faster. Before that, you would have to expand the Twitter card first before you can click on the link, but since the majority of people tweet a link directly and include the heading, it always felt like an unnecessary step to take.
However, it’s when you look at the discovery tab do things start to get interesting. True to form, it follows the same basic idea as Twitter’s Web page, but the layout is more comprehensive and visual. For one, pretty much everything you would be looking for is on display on the main screen, so theoretically, you don’t really need to scroll down. While it functions perfectly fine on smartphones, it’s when you’re looking at it on a tablet that it shines.
When it is displayed, it does a good job in presenting the information you will want to look for. Activity highlights the profile images instead of content, which is more useful as it will make you curious as to what’s happening. Trends is rather self-explanatory, while one of the more important tweets in your feed will be given a priority spot underneath activity and trends. The rest of the curated tweets and recommended profiles to follow can be found further down, so the focus is very much on what your friends are doing and what the most popular topics are in your area.
The reason for this is because you’re more likely to follow with someone if a friend or esteemed follower interacts with them. In a sense, a follow, retweet or a favourite acts as a sort of recommendation for content or people. Since that’s the main reason we follow people in the first place – we trust or enjoy their opinions and content – it makes sense that we’ll be curious about their activity in a way similar to what we see on Facebook.
And that’s what Twitter is trying to achieve. Discovery is an underused tool and while not perfect, it’s something that Twitter wants you to use as it finds more reasons for you to visit the news feed again and again. While it’s nice to see what the major stories are, it hasn’t given users a good enough reason to visit it regularly. Since the site is very mobile-focused, it makes sense to improve the interface for those users as it makes it more than just a constant stream of tweets from friends.
It’s also kept other familiar settings like notifications. This can be turned on for specific accounts so when they tweet, you will immediately get an update alerting you to it. This can be activated on a person’s Twitter profile and is handy if you’re keeping up with a news story, or waiting for developments.
Since Vine updated its app at the same time, and it’s backed by Twitter, it would be amiss not to include it in this roundup. While making it a 17+ app is a curious decision – even considering the controversy surrounding a porn clip being selected as an editors choice – what will be of particular interest is that you can share your Vine clips on Facebook. While being primarily a product owned by Twitter, it’s a good move that works around Facebook’s recent decision to block Vine from accessing its data.
This would probably work out better for Vine in the long-run as it will mean that its content will be seen by a larger group. With the hype around the app dying down, it now needs a way to be seen by as many users as possible and since friends are influenced by other friends, it’s a good way to spread the word.