Is the New Twitter Trying to Be a Web Portal?

Last night, Twitter announced a redesign of twitter.com, bringing photos, video, and in-depth information on posters and threads onto its home page.  The initial response from sites like Mashable is that Twitter has done this to compete with desktop applications like TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop.  However, there is one possible strategy on the part of Twitter that hasn’t been discussed.  Twitter may be positioning twitter.com as a web portal to compete with Google.com and Facebook.

According to alexa.com, Twitter is the 11th highest ranked site on the web (according to Alexa Traffic Rank), far behind Google and Facebook, who are 1st and 2nd, respectively.  According to comScore, the 1st and 2nd places are reversed in the United States (Americans use Facebook for 41.1 million minutes per month in August 2010, versus a mere 39.8 million minutes on Google.)  Visits and usage presages advertising dollars, so it’s in a site’s best interest to be a top source of web traffic.

As I explained in an earlier blog post, market leadership tends to be unstable until the leader can attain a 2:1 market share advantage over its nearest competitor.  Because Google and Facebook are neck and neck in providing web traffic, there is an opportunity for other services to steal market share from one or both services.

Photos and videos have been a big driver of web traffic, and the leading sites have all built or purchased capabilities to support their consumption.  Facebook’s services are integrated.  Google purchased YouTube to bolster its own video services and integrates Picasa into its web services for photos.  Yahoo (who tends to rank at least in third place for web traffic is a given study) purchased Flickr and extended its capabilities from just photos to photos and video to position its services in a similar fashion.  Twitter, historically, has used links to serve multimedia content, but this required the user to leave the twitter.com site.  When a user leaves the site, for example to view a YouTube video, there is a risk that he or she will follow links off of that new site and won’t return to Twitter to experience more content on twitter.com.

The new twitter.com interface’s inclusion of embedded content on its homepage allows it to compete for serving multimedia traffic with other portal sites.  Because Twitter already allows for feeds from Facebook, Foursquare, and more niche service like Plancast and mobile photo sharing apps, this inclusion of multimedia on the twitter.com homepage should encourage users to spend more time on the site instead of clicking away from it.  This means that visitors will have the opportunity to be served more content.

Will the new Twitter beat out Facebook for social multimedia?  I think it’s unlikely, but this redesign puts Twitter is a much stronger position as internet behavior moves from algorithmic search to social sharing.  In the months to come, it will be interesting to see how Twitter’s usage changes in relation to sites like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

My question to the reader is, how do you expect Twitter to compete in a similar way on mobile devices?  Do you think that serving multimedia in a stream on smartphones is necessary in the same fashion?

  • Dale Sheldon-Hess

    Maybe it’s more calculated, but I thought Twitter was just continuing it’s “steal what works” and “make it easy to do what people want to do” plans. As I understand, all this functionality was lifted from their iPad app (which, didn’t they buy a 3rd party wholesale to get?), and to me it looks like they’re trying to (better) capture the twitpic/yfrog/etc. wave, just like they captured retweeting when it caught on.

    Perhaps, you call that “positioning yourself as a web portal”… but since I find it inconceivable to refer to google.com as a web portal (and this is from someone who uses gReader, gMail, gChat, Blogger, Picassa, and has google in their search toolbar) maybe I’m just hung up on your definition of the word.

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