Just a week before its IPO, Twitter moved to go from mainly snippets and quips to a more visual social network.
Twitter announced on Tuesday that it's taking a more multimedia spin, making previews of photos and videos appear on users' timeline streams instead of making users click on links to see them.
This is a big move for a social network that has made its name in the last seven years on enabling only 140-characters of text. Sure, there are twitpics and now even short Vine videos, but Twitter has been all about the tweet.
With Twitter executives in the midst of their pre-IPO roadshow, this move toward multimedia could go a long way in making sure the social network doesn't appear outdated.
"I think this is a natural development for Twitter, but maybe one that has been accelerated to help shine some positive light on their upcoming IPO ," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "A lot of what users like to do is share images, and this makes images a more natural and integrated part of the Twitter feed."
More important to potential investors looking forward to Twitter going public next week is that this change could be a new tool for advertisers.
"Sure, this is a benefit to advertisers, too," said Olds. "As Twitter starts to become more ad friendly, I'm sure that the ability to post pictures will become a larger part of their pitch to paying customers. This means more revenue opportunities for Twitter, which is good for their IPO."
As Twitter executives meet with major investors this week, they are bound to be asked how they are going to attract new users and how they are going to keep their users engaged on the site over the long haul.
Part of an answer to those kind of questions is to advance the site, give it a new look and give users something new.
However to interest investors, Twitter can't make an eleventh hour change just for the sake of throwing up something shiny and new. A change coming this close to an IPO needs to be a real advancement.
And it looks like that's what Twitter has done, said Christian Perry, an analyst with Technology Business Review.
"Tech investors have seen enough maneuvers pre-IPO over the years to know what's actually an effort to improve a business or to just gloss up the product before it hits the market," said Perry. "In this case, these types of updates certainly can't hurt.
Olds also noted that with this move Twitter is using a part of rival Facebook's strategy. Facebook, the largest social network in the world, has been going after Twitter's immediacy () .
When there's a major event , such as a hurricane, a presidential debate or a World Series game, uses turn to Twitter to share information, gauge others' reaction and voice their own support or frustrations. Facebook doesn't have that same kind of immediacy and the company wanted to grab some of that market away from Twitter.
Now, Twitter is taking a page from Facebook and playing up eye-catching images and videos.
"I think that Twitter is trying to cut into Facebook's action by appealing more to users who want to broadcast their pictures, in addition to their pithy 140-character comments," Olds said.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is email@example.com.
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