Katherine Boehret

A Few New Reasons to Reunite With Twitter.com

Twitter is making a bid to lure us all back.

Like many of the 100 million monthly active Twitter users, I tweet all the time, but I stopped doing it through Twitter’s own site, Twitter.com, ages ago. That’s because tons of desktop and mobile apps, such as TweetDeck and even Twitter for BlackBerry, are simply more feature-filled and easier to use.

Now Twitter has revamped its website, deconstructing its menus to be more approachable and easier to use, even for Twitter newbies. So I returned to the site and found three features that make a big difference. Meanwhile, two features I hoped would, by now, be available on the site still aren’t.

Twitter is a short-messaging social network that limits each user’s posts, or tweets, to 140 characters. Some people tweet such mundane things as what they ate for lunch, while others tweet play-by-play accounts of live events or links to news stories. You’ll only see someone’s tweets if you “follow” them, and followers can retweet, mark as a favorite or reply to a tweet.

The new Twitter is slowly rolling out to all users over the next few weeks, and will automatically replace the old version of the site.

Easier on the Eyes

The first thing people will notice about the new Twitter is that everything that was once hugging the right side of the screen has shifted to the left. A black banner across the top gives users the feeling of being anchored—an improvement over the past, lost feeling. The Twitter app for iPhone and Android devices also has this black banner.

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Twitter ‘Stories’ helps users keep up with news.
Better Reading and Browsing

Two features (one new and one improved) found under Twitter’s Discover tab solve the problem of what to read given the overwhelming number of choices in this social network.

The Stories feature, though in its infancy, has the potential to become the first thing people skip to when they open Twitter.com. Here, Twitter displays 10 stories it thinks you’ll want to read. These are curated using an algorithm: Twitter studies the accounts you follow and serves up similar stories. Twitter also considers your location and which stories you interact with so that, over time, it will give you more personalized offerings.

Done right, Stories could solve the problem of missing news on Twitter, where tweets speed by in an ever-changing stream and can be missed unless users look at the site all the time.

Browse Categories is a redesigned, improved version of Browse Interests. It groups people you might want to follow by category. For example, Entertainment includes Tom Hanks, Chelsea Handler and the Twitter account for the movie reviews website Rotten Tomatoes. This will be a help for people new to Twitter, as it can be hard to figure out how to get started.

Following the Tit-for-Tat

Conversations on Twitter can be hard to follow. That’s mostly because when people reply to a tweet, only that response—not the original tweet—gets sent to followers. Now, users can catch up on entire conversations by clicking on any tweet to read the back-and-forth between two people.

Feeling More Popular

Social networks are, of course, far more interesting when people actually interact with you. Unless you’re famous, an avid Twitter user with plenty of followers or both, Twitter can feel a bit stale after a while.

The Connect tab has two subcategories: Interactions and Mentions. Interactions is a new feature that displays more of the hidden activities related to your Twitter account, making you feel more engaged with the network. These Interactions list whenever another user mentions your username, “favorites” one of your tweets, retweets one of your tweets, follows you or adds you to a public list.

As always, Mentions still includes only the tweets in which your username is mentioned. Some people will be frustrated that the new location for this category is less prominent than in the old version of Twitter.com.

Short on URLs

Twitter has always lagged behind other sites and apps when it comes to URL shortening—taking a long, messy web link and automatically shrinking it down. Most people think that Twitter doesn’t shorten URLs at all. That’s in part because it only shortens them to 20 characters (still too long) and doesn’t obviously notify users that it’s doing this.

Also, the tweet-composing box doesn’t show a preview of what the shortened URL will look like before you share it with followers. Without a smarter built-in URL shortener, Twitter forces people to use other services, like bitly.com, to shorten links.

Retweet, But No Comment

Twitter still doesn’t let its users retweet, or share someone else’s tweet to their followers with their own added comment. (Some apps refer to this as quoting a tweet.) This means I can only re-share exactly what someone else posted—there’s no way to include what I think of the tweet. Almost all of Twitter’s apps enable adding comments in retweets. A spokeswoman for Twitter says this feature is often requested and the company is actively considering it.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katherine.boehret@wsj.com


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