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Twitter 'Business-Friendly' Design Draws Mixed Reactions

Facebook-like user interface leaves some users cold, but analysts say it gives businesses and advertisers better ways to showcase their brands.

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10 Best Business Tools In Google+
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Twitter unveiled a new layout Tuesday, alongside updates to its apps for iPads, iPhones, and Android devices. More than just an aesthetic upgrade, the microblogging service's new look has been interpreted as a way to help business users showcase their brands--but it has also drawn mixed initial reactions from users.

The new Twitter layout, which includes larger profile headers and customizable backgrounds, was announced on the Today Show. The highly visible venue alluded to the San Francisco-based company's ambition to cast itself as a resource for businesses, and Twitter's advertising blog made the point explicit, positioning the change as "a richer way to showcase your brand and engage customers."

The enlarged header space supports images with dimensions up to 1252 x 626 pixels and file sizes up to 5 MB, creating a visual centerpiece that evokes Facebook's Timeline.

Early reactions across Internet forums and the blogosphere have been at best lukewarm. A Hacker News thread offered mostly critical feedback, with comments decrying the new interface's "waste of space" and expressing that Twitter's shift exudes a "me too" feel, as though the service is only catching up to the visual emphasis offered by other social media tools.

Reactions collected by .Net magainze followed suit, with commentators criticizing Twitter's sudden resemblance to Facebook and the fact that enlarged pictures push tweets further down the page, displacing the service's main content. Adrian Roselli, founder of Algonquin Studios, a technology services and consulting firm, offered particularly withering commentary, writing in his blog that he was "wholly unimpressed" by what he called "Twitter's mistake." Roselli expressed particular disdain for the way the layout's scale changes across different devices and browsers, and for the likelihood that images will overwhelm or obscure text.

[ Public health researchers tap social media to see disease outbreaks sooner. See Twitter App Tracks Illness Outbreaks. ]

Even so, major UI changes often provoke disparate reactions, and not all responses to the new Twitter have been negative. In a phone interview, Lydia Di Francesco, a social media consultant with Prosar, said, "From a marketing and branding perspective, I think it's good," adding that the new headers offer "another opportunity for businesses to brand themselves on a site that's not their own." She mentioned that the previous UI only allowed backgrounds to be changed, leaving the middle of the screen blocked off and producing pages that could "look a bit unprofessional." She hesitated to call the update "special" for the average user and does not consider it a "game-changer" for Twitter's business interests. But she said that by "keeping up with other social media sites in embracing imagery," the company has done "something that helps" their growth goals.

Gartner research director Brian Blau said in an interview that the new headers show Twitter is becoming "more business-friendly" and that he suspects "business are generally happy and can put in the time to make the images work for them." He stated that social profiles of all kinds evolve over time and that it's natural for Twitter to "want to allow people to shine."

Blau also stated that developments such as Twitter's tighter integration into iOS demonstrate that the company is "figuring out how to play in bigger consumer platforms" and that the visual focus could help solidify Twitter as an information hub. "People are visual," he asserted, adding that he could not predict what additional changes the service might make but that future moves into video sharing or interactive content could help Twitter to better address "different markets, [such as] live events, breaking news, and customer support."

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

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