Ready or not, here comes the new Twitter

Twitter has looked the same for almost seven years, but now, brace yourself, it's being redesigned from the ground up.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

With only 134 million daily users, Twitter has a much smaller reach than Facebook, with its over two billion monthly users. But, for newsmakers, movers, and shakers, Twitter is the social network to use. Just ask tweeter-in-chief Donald J. Trump. Now, for the first time in years, Twitter is making significant changes to its interface. 

This is the biggest change to Twitter since it abandoned its 140-character message limit for 280-characters in 2017. Now, Twitter has redesigned the site's front-end from scratch. The goal is to bring new features and functionality for a faster, more personalized experience. These changes are, according to Twitter:

  • More of What's Happening: "We've brought over Explore to bring you the same great content found in our apps; expect more live video and local moments personalized for wherever you are in the world. Get context with profile information within conversations and check out your Top Trends in any view so you never miss what's happening."
  • Easy access to your favorite features: "Bookmarks, Lists, and your Profile are right up front and have their own spot on the side navigation, making it easier and faster to jump between different tabs."
  • Direct messages all in one place: "Direct Messages have been expanded so you can see your conversations and send messages all from the same view. Now there's less hassle switching between screens to send a message."
  • Login, logout struggle no more: "Whether you have one profile or a few, now you're also able to switch between accounts faster, directly from the side navigation; your stan, foodie and cat meme accounts thank you."
  • Make Twitter yours: "The love is real for dark mode themes Dim and Lights Out. You've asked for even more ways to personalize Twitter so we're bringing you different themes and color options, along with two options for dark mode."
The July 2019 Twitter Update

It's not just Twitter's face that's been given a make-over. Twitter's foundation is also being reworked.  The major change in the back-end is so that mobile users will only download and run code when it's needed. So, for example, a mobile user won't download the sidebar you see on the home page, and may not download the settings pages until they go to update their display name. However, it also means that the full functionality of the site is still available to them should they want to access the best experience possible.

Twitter also wants the revised mobile apps to run faster with smaller bundle sizes to deliver the same experience for everyone, everywhere. This, in turn, will enable Twitter to ship new features and updates to users faster than before.

It's not just about making the Twitter experience better for mobile users. According to Twitter engineering:

"One of Twitter's goals is to reach everyone, everywhere. Twitter's web apps are critical to making this happen. They don't require installation and are immediately accessible by almost every connected device in the world. The open web has unparalleled discoverability and reach. However, the Twitter web team found it difficult to deliver on the promise of bringing Twitter's features to everyone on the web due to our large user base and the variety of devices they use. 

We tried several approaches to fix problems as they arose, but found many of these stemmed from old architectural decisions. Ultimately we decided to move forward with a whole new approach - rebuilding Twitter.com from scratch. We knew we were undertaking a huge task: a rewrite of one of the largest sites on the web.  Big migrations like this are risky and difficult to pitch. Nevertheless, we were successful in getting the support we needed, and we set out to make Twitter anew."

How is Twitter doing this? By unifying Twitter's mobile and desktop architectures into one codebase -- one website -- which can deliver a customized Twitter experience to each person. Twitter even borrows Java's old "Write once, run everywhere" slogan to describe their development plans going forward.  

On the mobile side, this is being done with a Progressive Web App (PWA) approach. This means the mobile apps will use the same code as the desktop website. To make this practical for bandwidth-constrained mobile users, you will only download those components you want or need. So, for example, while mobile users could access keyboard shortcuts, by default, these aren't enabled -- or downloaded -- unless Twitter detects a physical keyboard.

Even before the big release, Twitter had been rolling out its new interface. So far, users seem favorably impressed. As the new Twitter comes to more users, we'll soon see what the Twitterverse makes of Twitter's new real-time news and discussion face.

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