September 15, 2010, 5:39 PM

Twitter hatches a new look

The new design allows users to see more content with fewer clicks.

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Twitter debuted a new look this week designed to help users navigate and view reams of content more easily. Social media experts say it will drive more traffic to the site and gives Twitter more opportunities to generate a profit.

Twitter describes the new design on its blog as providing for an easier, faster and richer experience, while still maintaining the timeline look users are accustomed to. “You’ll see the familiar timeline, yet underneath each tweet is a handful of information, deeper context and even embedded media,” the blog says.

When a user clicks on a tweet, or Twitter posting, the screen divides into a split-pane design that reveals the additional content, such as the author’s biographical information and photo and replies to the post from other users.  Under the old design, users had to load new pages to reveal these details. The site also features a rolling scroll of tweets so users don’t have to click to view more posts. The site, where users communicate in text bursts of 140 characters or fewer, had not experienced any significant makeover since it launched in 2006.

“It is an upgrade and a step from a maturity standpoint in their overall interface. It adds useful functionality and visually is a lot more compelling,” says Bernie Borges, founder and CEO of Internet marketing agency Find and Convert and author of “Marketing 2.0: Bridging the Gap between Seller and Buyer through Social Media Marketing.”

It’s also a development that may drive more user traffic to Twitter.com, thus making it a more commercially attractive hub for information. Figures Twitter released in April claimed the service had more than 105 million registered users globally, but also that 75% of Twitter traffic came from outside Twitter.com, meaning Twitter content was accessed through third-party applications and read outside the site.

“One of the things Twitter saw was a lot of traffic around Twitter going to all these other apps and locations and not a lot was happening on Twitter the web site,” says Dana VanDen Huevel, founder of MarketingSavant Group, a marketing consultancy specializing in social media. “What this will do is keep people on the site by making the experience more rewarding and engaging,” he says.

Experts say the added traffic would provide a better opportunity for Twitter to sell the Promoted Tweets program, a paid ad service launched in April that pairs ads with user tweets on related subjects. Despite its growth and user base, Twitter has yet to turn a profit. With more web properties entering the social networking arena, the pressure is on.

“It’s kind of a foot race and Twitter has to feel the pressure to stay in the race,” says Borges, citing Google’s confirmation that it will launch its own social network by the end of 2010.

Twitter will most likely go much farther than Promoted Tweets to generate revenue, even though the end point is probably still hazy even to Twitter, VanDen Huevel says. “The new design will offer so many opportunities and I think that Twitter doesn’t even know where this will end up. What they have here is the opportunity to build connections and commerce,” he says.

For example, he projects a time when a window pops up next to a Twitter thread of posts about a retailer and connects to the mentioned retailer’s e-commerce site. “So many commercial opportunities will come out of this, but they have to be tasteful commercial opportunities. Social media audiences can be fickle and Twitter has to be careful not to do anything that’s going to jeopardize the community. Any addition has to add to the richness and usefulness of the experience of using Twitter,” he says.

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