trouble on the line

A fell swoop, or a sudden downward movement by an attacking bird, almost perfectly describes the action that Twitter took today.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo made a fluffy and flustered appearance on The Today Show Tuesday morning to introduce the masses to the all-new, more personal, more consistent Twitter.

Costolo’s morning show appearance both highlighted and masked the significance of the changes the company made to its products. “Twitter brings you closer,” Costolo said when asked to define Twitter’s purpose.

So in the name of bringing people closer to their favorite tweeting celebrities, candidates, and personalities, the company gave all of its members new profiles for self-expression, and remade its mobile applications with photos in mind.

In one fell swoop, Twitter changed everything. The attacking bird delivered on the promise of consistency and cleared away clutter to create an arguably more luminous, enriching experience on web, iPhone, Android, and iPad. But in the process, Twitter users lost some of their original freedoms, and elements reminiscent of a more open regime were demolished.

The good

Twitter is intertwined with popular culture. Tweets add real-time color, commentary, and drama to political conventions, reality television shows, and sporting events. Today, Twitter matured in a good way to meet the needs and desires of the masses with the following:

Consistent experiences: Twitter needed to make its web and mobile apps as consistent as possible. It did so today with the release of an iPad application that mirrors the experience on iPhone (and Android). The mobile applications also received the same updates as the web app, so the new profiles with header photos and photo streams are experienced in the same way on mobile as they are on the web.

Header photos: The most colorful and obvious addition to the Twitter experience, header photos give Twitter users a better way to express themselves. They may have been inspired by Facebook’s Cover Photos, but they dramatically enhance a person’s profile and allow a picture, not just 140 character text updates, to speak on behalf of each Twitter user.

Photo streams on mobile: Photo streams, or the collection of photos posted by a Twitter user, now appear below a person’s most recent tweets in the iPhone, Android, and iPad apps. Just like header photos, photo streams highlight a person’s personality. A profile visitor can swipe through a person’s photos for a quick glimpse of shots or tap on a photo to see a full-screen view of any individual capture. The implementation adds life to and brightens up the overall Twitter mobile experience.

The bad

Not all that glitters is gold, and Twitter appears to have overlooked a few of the finer details.

Above: Twitter for iPad forces the user to tap a tweet to engage with content.

The direct message (DM) inbox remains slightly hidden on web and mobile, for instance, and DMs read in one app are still marked as unread in other apps.

Twitter users with multiple accounts will also find switching between accounts a process that requires several clicks in the mobile applications.

Interacting with tweets in Twitter for iPad is now a more complicated process.

Apple blogger John Gruber pointed out that tweets on mobile must first be tapped and expanded before a person can click on content such as usernames, URLs, and hashtags.

Sadly, at least for some of us, Twitter also today killed off the remaining pieces of Tweetie, the popular iPhone application it purchased more than two years ago.

Loren Brichter, maker of Tweetie, spearheaded development of Twitter’s iPhone and iPad applications, with Tweetie serving as the original inspiration behind both applications. The more consistent version of Twitter for iPad appears to have all but wiped out Brichter’s creative contributions to the company, which likely explains why the developer left the information network in November of last year.

There is one potential side effect of the new photo-centric mobile experiences that may backfire on Twitter. Twitter is inadvertently giving additional exposure to Facebook-owned Instagram, which has ballooned in popularity and is quickly becoming a social network with similar relevance in the current affairs arena.

Instagram shots posted to Twitter are integrated with a Twitter user’s photo collection, which means these square captures are more prominent than ever on mobile.

The ugly

Twitter has shown time and again that it’s not afraid to burn bridges with one-time buddies. Today, the company did it again when it decided to no longer support photo uploads from competing services.

The change makes it impossible for iOS users to make a third-party service such as Yfrog or TwitPic their default photo-sharing service, and it further jeopardizes the long-term viability of these apps.

Twitter for iPad isn’t getting the best reviews either — despite the addition of expanded tweets, new interface elements, and profiles. The iPad application may be more consistent with the iPhone version, but its design and usability are coming under fire, as evidenced by the tweet from Instapaper creator Marco Arment.

Photo credit: TarikB/Flickr