In July 2019, Twitter rolled out its first new desktop design in 7 years to all users. It had been experimenting with different redesigns since mid-2018 but didn’t roll out a finished product to all users until this summer.
The prior design was from 2012, and it showed.
It wasn’t that there was anything wrong exactly with Twitter’s old interface, but its user experience reflects some of the priorities of 2012. Today’s desktop design mimics that of an app, which is more suited to the multitude of devices that must access the website daily.
Welcome to the new user profile page, which interestingly, is a step away from the “home” page now.
The new layout seems a bit busier than the old, especially with the navbar on the left instead of being the header at the top of the page. Users of the mobile app say the new desktop design is more in line with the mobile app. I tend to agree.
The reason Twitter remained the same for so long was because its 2012 design had a similar technology stack as the sunsetted 2018/2019 desktop design.
This technology stack was so old that it was difficult or even impossible to roll out changes to users. That means Twitter on desktop stayed the same for far longer than was necessary.
The new stack means that the Twitter team can make changes that keep its users relatively happy and secure and up to date.
Navigation Bar Location
The navigation bar has moved. Most of the primary functions on the old Twitter format were at the top of the page. Now it runs alongside your feed as you scroll. I’m not sure why that is a necessary switch. The top of the page does look cleaner as a result.
Custom Display Options
The custom display options are an interesting twist. Twitter removed the old formatting options and replaced it with this:
To get to this mode, you click “More” then “Display.” Twitter removed some of the more customized display to make way for more easily accessible display features.
There are several modes (including a dim and dark mode) and color themes for users to choose from. The old display options would let you choose basically any color combination. I don’t see the option to do that here, but maybe that was to make sure users only picked visible, easy-to-read color schemes.
One major change is that when you click on a user or expand a tweet, the new Twitter desktop design takes you to a brand-new page. That can mean the chance of losing the spot you were scrolling at in the feed, which bothers many users.
This is one of my least favorite features, and I think it makes the new layout less user-friendly. You want to see the conversation that someone is replying to, but you don’t want to lose your spot. I think that this move makes conversations a little harder to follow, which might discourage them.
This covers many of the physical changes that were phased in for all users in July. But what about the other side of the platform, the content and conversations that drive Twitter users to keep signing on?
Shifting Usage Patterns
I found this incredibly in-depth, well-researched article and data visualization about Twitter usage between 2012 and 2018 from Forbes. It shares a lot of insight into the platform and where it is headed. Some of the most interesting trends these researches unearthed included:
- Overall, the number of original tweets being written is going down
- Retweets are increasing
- The top 1% of Twitter users generate 25% of the conversation
- The use of hashtags is steadily dropping
What do these numbers mean? It means that a small number of elites on the platform are driving most of the conversation. In turn, fewer users are putting out original thoughts in place of retweeting the opinions of the power users.
The use of hashtags dropping is interesting, because it means that Twitter users are doing less exploring through hashtags and more interacting with the conversation-starters they already follow.
Human Moderators and “Healthy” Conversations
Have you ever read the countless stories about how one poorly-thought-out tweet ruined a person’s life? I just spent the last few hours paging through article after article about various individuals who made a joke in poor taste and lost everything. Jobs, the ability to date, the ability to participate in social media.
One of these stories even related the mob-mentality of social media and Twitter to the public punishments that occurred a few hundred years ago. One of the conclusions
So, Twitter changed its outside, but most of its issues are inside. I’ve read that Twitter is a “toxic swamp” and then I spent a couple of hours reading about all the people who’s lives were ruined by a single, poorly thought out tweet.
Throughout the reboot of the desktop product, Twitter has been promoting “healthy conversations.”
What does that mean? Check out this status from March 2018, where Twitter founder expounds on the company’s need and want to change the way conversations are had on its platform.
We’re committing Twitter to help increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation, and to hold ourselves publicly accountable towards progress.
— jack ??? (@jack) March 1, 2018
According to the Twitter founders, that means creating conversations that don’t translate into real-world harassment, bullying, etc.
He wanted to take the toxic out of the swamp.
There are countless articles from the Twitter blog, most dated back to mid-2018, that talk about healthy conversations and some of the behind-the-scenes changes Twitter was making to encourage those changes.
That’s why this desktop change occurred so slowly. Beta versions of it were rolled out to different users at different times, so the company could get a sense of what would happen.
It’s like when an artist puts a piece of art in a public place and watches how the audience interacts with the artwork. If you move locations and move to different audience sizes, and different things happen.
I’m sure that some artists have had their art spit on or made fun of, but I doubt it was ever to the scale of what Twitter’s dev team must face.
Let’s read what the toxic swamp has to say about the update three months after rollout:
Two questions since I’m technologically challenged. 1) How to I change the color html codes in the twitter redesign (there’s only like 5 options and I could make it whatever I wanted before). 2) How do I change the color theme on mobile? There doesn’t seem to be an option for it.
— ??Luna?? | PROMARE spoilers (@Luna_Valkyrie_) October 8, 2019
Used to be able to count repetitions by just scrolling to bottom of search results, doing a cmd-f search, and counting results. Now Twitter only seems to load results to the page in groups of 10 tweets at a time, making quick counting impossible. tl;dr twitter redesign bad
— PicPedant (@PicPedant) October 8, 2019
— Nan Shade Thrower, First of Her Name (@JS_Carberry) October 8, 2019
Just a reminder to @Twitter that the functionality of their site remains broken since they let the college interns redesign it. When I click on a thread, I shouldn't be swept to another page and lose my place.
— Saeger Ryman (@saegerart) October 8, 2019
What a tough audience. But Twitter handles the cries of the mob with as much grace as they can, trying to humanize the redesign and talk about why things were changed.
And a special shout out to the ladies who are the driving force of this launch ❤️ Extra blessed that I get to work with y’all everyday. pic.twitter.com/3tYBIiN2MO
— jesar ? (@jesarshah) July 15, 2019
Today we began rolling out the new https://t.co/70nfnzDFFB to more people, and it’s been both ?? and ??! The whole web team has poured SO much hard work and love into it, and although there are many more things to come, I’m super proud of what we’ve accomplished. pic.twitter.com/rZzgfZRCLc
— Marina (@m7z) July 16, 2019
For the last few months I’ve been working on a super fun project with @hackerdreamer @m7z @jesarshah @ashlie. You can now set your very own Twitter theme color! And dark mode users now get two options – 'dim' and 'lights out'. Rolling out to everyone over the coming weeks??? pic.twitter.com/jKxi880bFD
— Amy Simmons ❄️? (@amesimmons) July 15, 2019
Twitter will be Twitter, because everyone knows that the flashes of controversy is what keeps users coming back to the website, if only to read the opinions of others and not express their own.
A Handful of Marketing Lessons
From Twitter’s desktop rollout, we can learn a few things. These include:
- Brands should focus on creating retweetable content or content that asks for responses.
- Many Twitter users are lurkers, so tweeting is an easy tool for getting eyes on your brand.
- Always test big changes on a smaller sample groups.
- Know that not everyone will be thrilled with your offering, but it won’t be as bad for you as it is for Twitter’s dev team. Remain professional and don’t read too many replies.
- Brands should read about Twitter’s goals for more healthy conversations and work it into their strategies.
Let us know what you think:
- What do you think of Twitter’s new design?
- What can you learn from Twitter’s handling of the redesign in its marketing?
- Do you think that Twitter’s redesign will affect engagement?