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What's Happening With Twitter (March 2014 Edition)

New design, photo collages, wedding packages and political fun

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Twitter has been busy the last few months and March is no exception. If you're wondering what's up in the world of Twitter, here's a look:

1. Twitter Hints That At-Replies and Hashtags Are About to Be Streamlined                 

"What will Twitter look like in a year? Two years? A lot less like itself. ... At least that’s the impression Vivian Schiller, head of news at Twitter, gave addressing the crowd two days ago at the Newspaper Association of America’s mediaXchange conference in Denver. During her talk, Schiller called at-replies and hashtags 'arcane' and hinted that Twitter might soon move them into the background of the service.”

– Charlie Warzel, BuzzFeed

Speculation is that Schiller spoke too soon, but she was simply relaying what Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has said on several recent occasions: that the service’s “scaffolding” is getting in the way of its content, and might even be doing serious damage by discouraging users with too much clutter. 

According to March 24 Quartz infographics on “Why People Quit Twitter,” those fears might be warranted. But is the company pushing the panic button too soon in the wake of its sluggish IPO? Would these changes only further muddle the interface? Is this just the tip of the iceberg? And will Twitter still be Twitter without the revolutionary hashtag? #somanyquestions

2.Twitter’s Latest Addition? Photo Collages

"Twitter is turning eight, and while Facebook is toying with virtual reality, Twitter is sticking to the basics ... Tweets can now be 140 characters, and up to four photos with tags! All of this (for now) will be in real-time and actual reality. Feels so Facebook circa 2007. ... Today the microblogging site announced that it is adding new mobile features, and if you are an iPhone user you can update the app and try them out right now. Users will be able to create a photo collage with a max of four photos and tag up 10 people in them."

– Sarah Gray, Salon

In the aforementioned Quartz infographics, themselves based on a Deutsche Bank survey, 54% of lapsed users said their reason for leaving was that “There are no photos, images, pictures like other social networks.” But two-thirds of the 60% who would consider returning to the service said such features would be a primary driver. Well, ask and you shall receive.

Twitter seems to be navigating the same growing pains all purveyors of information suffer at some point in their evolution: how to make all of that pesky text look a little prettier. In doing so, they’re adding rather than subtracting – for now. Will longtime, hardcore users turn their noses up at such cosmetics, or just freak out that mom and dad are coming for their Twitter like they did their Facebook?

After all, the two sites are starting to look a lot alike. It could also mean that Twitter is planning on taking advantage of the new photo collages and also use them as advertising space.            

3. Why Do Governments Keep Banning Social Media When It Never Works Out for Them?               

"You'd think world leaders would know better. Shut down the Internet (or some services that it hosts), and the users will come after you. ... But, faced with allegations of corruption, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went ahead Thursday night and banned Twitter anyway. Now Turks are pushing back. Twitter is facilitating the uproar by offering advice of how to evade the ban with text messaging. Other users have turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent the blockage.”

– Brian Fung, The Washington Post 

Definitely makes you wonder what this Turkey is thinking, am I right? Twitter’s founders always said that they envisioned the service working best as “the Internet’s town square,” and one could make a strong case it has indeed shined brightest during times of upheaval, engagement, protest, and human triumph as well as tragedy. In this sense, the site has distinguished itself from its social networking brethren. Can you imagine Facebook going toe to toe with dictators? Yeah, me, either.    

The New York Times’ Bits blog recently looked at big-data dealer Gnip’s findings on the languages of Twitter. While the metrics aren’t airtight, they indicate a remarkable trend: Nearly half of all tweets are in a language other than English. Amid the press’s identity crisis – in newsrooms and online – perhaps Twitter is the true heir to public service journalism. The riddle for investors, meanwhile, is how to monetize a movement.                    

4. Medium Launches iPhone App for Reading Stories on the Go                  

“After a short delay, Medium released its iPhone app today with a focus on reading and recommending stories. ‘Every week, thousands of people come to Medium to write,’ company founder Ev Williams said in a post on the site. ‘That's the hard part. We're just helping amplify their voices.’ ... After signing in with Twitter, the app presents you with a list of stories based on what's popular and what you have already chosen to follow. It tells you about how long it will take to read each story, and if you get bored partway through, you can swipe to the next story. The app also lets you share articles through Twitter, Facebook, and email.”

– Casey Newton, The Verge                    

The Times called Medium the “future of writing,” but you’re stuck in the past unless you have an account with Williams’ erstwhile underlings at Twitter. Hm. Irony. Going from 140 characters to as many as you need to tell a story reminds me of that video where the old dairy cows are granted clemency and released into the pasture come springtime ... though only, it would seem, for the serious aspiring writer. Long-form is all the rage these days, but can Medium – with its flood of prose, elegant design, and interesting feedback approach – catch on? Especially on tiny screens? So far, I like it.

5. Lovely Wedding, But Did It Trend on Twitter?

"Where were all the RTs for that hilarious bouquet-catching Vine? Why didn't anyone Instagram the handmade Mason-jar floral arrangements in the restrooms? And only 10 likes for the first blurry picture of the new couple? Please. ... The W hotel chain is here to help. For a mere $3,000, couples getting hitched at any of the four W hotels in New York can hire their very own 'social media wedding concierge' to make sure every moment of their special day is properly immortalized in tweets, Instagrams, and Facebook posts.”

– Heather Kelly, CNN

Three grand seems pretty reasonable for a bunch of blurry snaps, tweets and retweets, right? I wonder we’ll start seeing these types of offer pop up at wedding expos all over the country.    

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