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2012-08-10

Twitter’s future: cards

This blog post describes how Twitter sees its future: richer tweet content via “cards” and no more third-party clients.

Cards

This month, Twitter rolled out a new feature: cards. Here is how the developer documentation describes them:
Twitter cards make it possible for you to attach media experiences to Tweets that link to your content. Simply add a few lines of HTML to your webpages, and users who Tweet links to your content will have a "card" added to the Tweet that’s visible to all of their followers.

We currently are in the process of slowly rolling out the technology to 100% of users. Not all users will see Cards for the time being.

The tweets of @YouTube contain numerous examples: Collapsed, they are normal tweets, expanded you can see a video, in place. Sponsored tweets seem to be expanded by default.

Twitter to developers: stop building clients

What does this mean for developers working with the Twitter API? Ryan Sarver, Director of Platform at Twitter explains it in a Google Groups post titled “consistency and ecosystem opportunities”. The following is a summary of the most important points, along with quotes from the post.

Don’t develop new Twitter clients:

Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter. More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.
Existing Twitter clients won’t be killed (yet?):
If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service. We have spoken with the major client applications in the Twitter ecosystem about these needs on an ongoing basis, and will continue to ensure a high bar is maintained.

As we point out above, we need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way. This is already happening organically - the number and market share of consumer client apps that are not owned or operated by Twitter has been shrinking. According to our data, 90% of active Twitter users use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis.

Twitter would rather see developers integrate Twitter into their products than develop their own clients. One example are social websites that send updates via tweets.

Coming up: applications in tweets

Cards offer another way for Twitter integration. Quoting Director of consumer product at Twitter, Michael Sippey:
Twitter cards are an important step toward where we are heading with our platform, which involves creating new opportunities to build engaging experiences into Twitter. That is, we want developers to be able to build applications that run within Tweets.
That sounds a bit like Facebook apps. And it explains why Twitter is worried about third-party clients: If those clients aren’t implemented carefully, apps won’t work well.

Conclusion

At the moment, Twitter is focusing on news and apps, while trying to get rid of third-party clients. One area that could really use improvement is commenting on tweets. Comments are hard to find, not displayed as a tree and not editable. They also clog up the timelines of people who follow at least two participants in a comment thread. Disqus and Google+ show the way, Twitter should emulate at least some of what they are doing. Other desirable features have, ironically, been pioneered by third-party clients. For example, Twitter’s official clients should sync read tweets and allow one to (temporarily) filter out tweets with a given hashtag or from a given user.

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