Twitter is rolling out long-awaited features for its core apps designed to boost the time people spend on the service. As of this morning, you can begin shooting and post 30-second video clips to Twitter from the iOS and Android apps. And direct messages are expanding to let you message groups of up to 20 people, creating a place for more private conversations on Twitter (and doing grave damage to the time-honored practice of subtweeting in the process.)
The changes, which will roll out over the next several days, both address significant competitive needs for Twitter. Letting users post videos helps to level the playing field with Facebook, which is dramatically increasing the amount of video in the News Feed. And group DMs help Twitter recapture some of the conversations that migrated off the service to the many other social networks that enable multi-person chat.
Making Twitter more competitive
The video player will look familiar to anyone who has used Vine, Twitter’s short-form video service. To take video, you simply tap and hold your phone’s screen. You can record multiple segments, and delete a segment with a tap. You can also upload a clip of up to 30 seconds (not 10 minutes) from your phone’s camera roll — but for now, camera roll uploads are available only on iOS. (Android is coming soon, Twitter says.)
Given Twitter’s position as a place where news breaks, it’s easy to imagine that you’ll be seeing lots of video in your timeline. (Although it won’t play automatically, as some had suspected.) "We thought, what would Ferguson be like if everyone was armed with a video camera in their pocket?" says Jinen Kamdar, a product director at Twitter. "Or think of the Ellen Oscar selfie. What would the Oscars be like once video is available?" But it’s not just news: as Kamdar notes, Twitter is home to a large number public figures, athletes, and celebrities, and many of them are likely to embrace video.
Meanwhile, today’s update brings some much-needed power to Twitter’s perennially neglected direct message feature. You can now host group discussions, and anyone in the group can invite anyone who follows that person back. But not everyone has to follow each other to get the chat to work, and Twitter says this will result in you meeting more people and having more conversations there than you might otherwise.
In October, when Kevin Weil became Twitter’s fifth head of product in as many years, insiders told me he was chosen because of his ability to ship products. (Weil, who has been at Twitter since 2009, previously was head of all revenue-generating products.) At the time, it sounded like spin. But in the months since, Twitter restored the ability to send hyperlinks in DMs; released new tools for reporting abuse and harassment; launched its phone-based password killer, Digits; and introduced a useful "while you were away" feature.
Twitter still has a long way to go, of course. And the changes are likely to annoy some users, particularly if video overtakes the feed and makes it harder to scan. But for the first time in a long time, Twitter's product team actually has some momentum. All of which means Weil may be the person who fixes Twitter’s product after all.