You may have been too focused on Kanye West's presidential run to notice last night, but Twitter is experimenting with Snapchat-style, location-based photo and video filters around big events. TechCrunch spotted a series of tweets from VMA nominees including Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, and Big Sean featuring VMA-related stickers. Big Sean posted a moon man icon on one of his tweets; Pharrell showcased the official hashtag; and Swift appeared to get not one but two special stickers devoted to her songs: one for "Bad Blood," and a pair of wild animals for "Wildest Dreams." Then today Twitter showed off some new filters in a blog post about the US Open, including one in which someone had drawn a happy face on the photo.
None of this is possible in the rudimentary photo-editing tools that exist in Twitter's current apps, suggesting certain celebrities and other partners are getting special access to features that are hidden from the rest of the world. Twitter isn't talking, but people familiar with the company's thinking say it plans to continue arming celebrities with the filter tools around big events. Celebrities' embrace of Twitter is one of the core advantages the company has over its social-networking rivals, and it is natural to see the company coddling them with bespoke stickers.
Headed to red carpet.... #VMAs #squadUP pic.twitter.com/NuubLARzSB— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) August 30, 2015
Can't wait for the #usopen to start! @Simona_Halep pic.twitter.com/ArpvGnYf3d— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 29, 2015
For years now, executives at Twitter have paid lip service to the importance of photos on the service, but its tools for normal users have evolved slowly. They were last updated at the end of 2014, when a feature was added to adjust the strength of photo filters. This is one reason so many Instagram links continue to be shared to Twitter, even when (maddeningly) they don't display natively in Twitter's own apps. Local- and event-based filters have been a hit on Snapchat, where they let you add a cool image and some useful context to your picture with a couple swipes of your thumb. Limiting access that to a handful of events and celebrities feels unnecessarily limited.
But hey, all those tweets were retweeted tens of thousands of times. And Taylor Swift didn't post anything to Instagram last night. If you're Twitter, that's a big enough win to keep going.