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This article was published on March 19, 2013

What’s in a tweet?

What’s in a tweet?

Today, Twitter tweaked the marketing language in the description of its iOS app. This isn’t necessarily notable on its own, but the changes do speak loudly about how Twitter thinks of itself and its service.

If you’ve been reading stuff I’ve been writing about Twitter you’ll know that I wasn’t all that pleased with the way it handled its dismissal of third-party clients. But you’ll also know that I’m still very much excited by the service and that I’m keenly interested in how it’s been handling its transition from a real-time message company to a real-time media company.

The changes to the iOS app’s description, implemented today, sketch out a roadmap for what to expect from the service as it continues to move down this (more ad-friendly) path. Lets break each change down with the original in italics, and the new line in bold.

Wherever you are, Twitter brings you closer. / With Twitter, you can watch the world unfold like never before.

Not too different here. Bringing people closer and watching the world unfold are similar concepts but the second phrase is better because it’s about ‘exposing’ more of the world, rather than actually ‘moving’ you. This makes it clear that you’ll be ‘watching’ (an active term, but in a passive way) things on Twitter, rather than making you actually go anywhere.

Essential: An organized stream of Tweets that delivers the best content to you. / Get real-time stories, pictures, videos, conversations, ideas, and inspiration all in your timeline.

This is good stuff, as it eliminates ‘Tweets’ entirely (the word no longer appears anywhere in its description section). Instead of a ‘tweet’, which is a term that most people have come to associate directly with ‘140 characters of text’, the focus is on content. Stories is text, and technically so is ‘ideas’, but pictures, videos and ‘inspiration’ are all bigger and more inclusive concepts.

Conversations, though still related to text, implies a back and forth, rather than a broadcasting. The focus on media unsurprisingly matches what Twitter has been doing with Cards. If every tweet had a ‘Card’ attached, Twitter would be just fine with that. I’ve pointed out before exactly what the future of Twitter will look like, and this fits in well with that.

Instant: All the media, news, events, and information you need. / Follow people and your interests to get unfiltered access and unique behind-the-scenes perspectives.

Previously, Twitter was selling the service with media, news, events, info. Now, it’s ‘unfiltered access’ and ‘unique perspectives’. In other words, Twitter wants to present itself as ‘less filtered’ than a typical media or news service, where you’ll be seeing a neatly packaged message. This is good, because it’s largely true.

Tapping a couple-dozen tweets from a certain location can give me a far less neatly summarized view of an event or ongoing situation. Not only is it less filtered, it’s immediate (which is what the real-time emphasis was about in the line above). If Twitter is becoming a media company, that’s fine, but it needs to make sure people know it’s not the same kind of media company, it’s a newer, faster, less ‘on message’ one.

Personal: Your world, expressed in Tweets and photos. / Express yourself with photos, videos and comments.

Roughly the same, but the new emphasis on videos is obviously referring to Vine. While the Twitter app currently lets you upload videos through a couple of other providers, it recently eliminated a couple. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it take over the video hosting duties altogether soon enough. The use of the word ‘comments’ is interesting, though, because it’s really referring to replies, or perhaps original tweets about a topic. Either way, ‘comments’ are something people are familiar with. Tweets still have a text baggage. Why can’t your comment be a picture?

Search in real time, Follow people you’d like to know. Watch rising trends. / Twitter is your global town square.

The Global Town Square branding is something that Twitter has been using since New Years, and its implications are obvious. It’s the place that everyone comes to see stuff and talk about that stuff. A ‘comments section’ for real-time real-life.

I’ve got some more thoughts about where this kind of shift is taking Twitter, and how it compares to the Twitter of the past, but those will have to wait. I just thought that the changes here were telling. Overall they paint a picture of Twitter moving away from the specific and (perceptually) limiting ‘tweet’ and towards media as an anchor for new posts on the service.

After all, if you were to ask someone in 2010, ‘what’s in a tweet?’ the most likely reply would have been ‘140 characters’. Now? It’s much likelier to be ‘all kinds of stuff’, and that’s just what Twitter wants.

Image Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images