Katherine Boehret

Easier Navigating at Tweaked Twitter

Twitter recently revealed the most dramatic overhaul to its website since the social network’s debut four years ago. Some tech-savvy Twitterers who use apps like TweetDeck scoff at the idea of tweeting via the original site. But the newly enhanced Twitter.com may change their minds.

I, too, have long viewed Twitter.com as much less robust and useful than third-party apps. So I was surprised to find that the new site offers a good number of fresh features that enhance the social-network experience. The site now works a lot like its own app, with fewer clicks needed to navigate and more ways to see content without leaving the current Web page. The site is noticeably faster with more pleasing visuals and easier ways to follow or unfollow others.

According to the company, 78 percent of Twitter users use Twitter.com at least part of the time and about half of all Twitterers use only the website.

But many people who use third-party apps will keep using them because Twitter.com still doesn’t provide a way for users to shorten long URLs in tweets before posting them, nor does it provide a simple way to insert photos or videos into outgoing tweets. It also lacks the ability to pull in content from other social networks, like some third-party apps do with LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace. And its method for retweeting doesn’t let you add your own comment to the tweet you’re retweeting, or reposting to your followers.

Not everyone can use this website yet. Twitter is slowly rolling this out over a period of weeks, so just under half of the 160 million people who use Twitter can currently access it. A spokesman for Twitter says all users should have access within the next two weeks.

This website was redesigned so as to give people a more efficient way to get information on Twitter. One of the ways it does this is by using a details pane, or a column that slides out on the right side of the page to show more information about something you’ve selected. The details pane helps users avoid going to an entirely new Web page for the information.

If I click on someone’s profile photo, a details pane opens and shows me a mini profile of that person. Likewise, if I click on a tweet, a details pane shows me information about that tweet, like usernames mentioned in it; other tweets that mention the original user; and who retweeted the tweet. Small icons beside tweets indicate that a tweet contains a photo, video or location tag; clicking on these icons will open the image, play a video or display a location map.

You can use a details pane to see conversations around tweets, something that wasn’t possible on Twitter.com before. A small word bubble icon beside a tweet indicates that at least one person replied to the tweet, and the details pane shows the conversation associated with that tweet.

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At the revamped Twitter.com, a details pane pops out to the right of a tweet to allow a user to play a shared video without leaving the Web page.

Helpful tabs appear at the top of the Twitter.com home page for quick navigation to a section of the site. These tabs are labeled Timeline, @Mentions, Retweets, Searches and Lists. The Retweets are broken down into retweets by others; retweets by you; and your tweets that were retweeted. Searches include terms you search most often and save for a fast check of that term. And Lists includes any Twitter lists you follow.

A Messages section at the top of Twitter.com lists all direct messages or DMs, as they’re called in Twitter lingo. This is incredibly helpful if you use direct messages to exchange several back-and-forth tweets with someone and want a simple way to keep track of those messages. The Messages section also uses a details pane: When a tweet is selected on the left, a details pane opens on the right to display the whole conversation string. And a number beside each tweet indicates how many back-and-forth tweets were exchanged.

The new Twitter.com constantly checks for new tweets and indicates the number of new tweets posted since you last checked the page. This number appears at the top of the timeline, as well as beside the Web page name in the frame of the browser window. But the page doesn’t automatically refresh to show those new tweets. A Twitter spokesman said the engineers made a deliberate decision not to refresh the screen without users doing it so they wouldn’t lose their place in the timeline or feel out of control.

To see a set of keyboard shortcuts for the home page, just hit the question mark key anytime. These shortcuts include hitting the period key to refresh a timeline of tweets and jump to the top of the screen; hitting the “g” and “u” keys opens a floating box into which you can type someone’s name to search for a Twitter profile.

Search now offers ways to narrow your results according to tweets, tweets with links, tweets near you or people. But I found that while it is better, searching on Twitter.com still needs more improvement. When I searched for a friend’s dad on Twitter, I saw a huge list of results that matched his first name, but not his first and last name, which I had entered. I even tried putting his entire name in quotation marks, but it didn’t help.

In early August, the Twitter.com site began suggesting people who you might want to follow, and these suggestions carry over into the new site with four suggested names. Several factors determine these suggestions, including who you follow and who those people follow. In the future, these suggestions will also take into consideration the tweets you choose to retweet to others. In my experience, Twitter’s suggestions exposed me to some people that made a lot of sense for me to follow, including popular Twitterers as well as some who weren’t so popular.

Twitter.com now uses infinite scroll, or the ability to let you scroll down limitlessly without having to click a “More” option to see additional tweets in a timeline or names of followers, depending on what you’re reading. Again, this helps people click less on the page, and saves time by keeping them from opening a new Web page.

The revamped Twitter.com offers richer features and makes it much easier to navigate through the social network and its sea of tweets. But certain features, like better searches and ways to shorten URLs in tweets, are necessary if Twitter wants to keep its users on this site.

Email Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com


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