New Twitter features to surface more relevant stuff

Ronny Kerr · August 10, 2011 · Short URL:

Two timelines, @username and Activity, show you retweets, follows and other interesting content

The product team at Twitter is on a roll this week.

Adding to the mandatory #NewTwitter upgrade and image uploading, two new features were announced Wednesday aiming to better surface the personalized content and activity already on Twitter.

First up is the new @username timeline, shown at left. (For me, the tab will read @kerrronny. For you, it will read @ + your username.) This feed brings together all activity on Twitter related to your account. If someone favorites or retweets a tweet of yours, if someone tweets at you, if someone starts following you--these are all the best examples of activity you’ll see in the @username timeline.

Most of this content is already accessible, but you have to sort of jump around to find it all. In a way, the @username timeline is like your notifications list on Facebook, alerting you to all the activity directly associated with you.

The other new feature, shown at bottom, is yet another timeline, accessible under the Activity tab. This new timeline is kind of like the one described above, except it tracks all the people you follow instead of your own activity. See who started following who (and maybe follow them yourself), see tweets your followers are favoriting and retweeting and more.

Both of these new features aim to address the signal-to-noise problem on Twitter. That is, the noise is immense, and catching a sharp, valuable signal is rare.

Right now, dipping into your main timeline can seem a daunting, almost impossible task--you’ll never read every tweet unless you stay in the stream permanently. How do you check Twitter only occasionally but still manage to read a lot of significant content? The Activity tab and @username timeline could bring us closer to realizing that potential, but it doesn’t take us there yet.

Also this week, Twitter completely abandoned the old Twitter site design and gave all users the ability to upload photos with their tweets. These two updates, along with the two above, indicate that the Jack Dorsey-led product team is laser-focused on streamlining the Twitter experience for new and old users alike.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.