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As the concept of ‘Web 2.0’ has spread its wings and developed since it first burst onto our computer monitors, the websites that embrace it have had to do the same.

In many ways, one of the biggest ways websites have had to change is how they hook users in. In a world where users leave pages if they don’t quickly see the content they’re looking for, and with social networking sites going from happy hobbies to big bucks, these websites need to quickly convince potential users that they can supply the content they want. As such, the front pages of social networking sites have had to change massively, in order to be marketing messages as well as mere pages for existing users to sign in.

In this series, I’m going to take a look at how the front pages of the social networking websites we know and love have changed, why they have done so, and what this means.

Today, in this first edition, I’ll be covering the social network that used to be my favourite – Twitter.

HISTORY

Twitter was first created in 2006 to serve as an internal service for employees of the podcasting company, Odeo. The service was spun off into its own company in 2007, and skyrocketed in popularity after the 2007 South By Southwest conference. Twitter was, and still is, a microblogging service – people are constrained to 140 characters per messages, and are ‘followed’ by individuals who had [but not necessarily have – more on this later!] similar interests.

BEFORE AND AFTER

I have been an avid user of Twitter since 2008. Given that this was just before Twitter grew rapidly once again, and given that there’s a sense of nostalgia in this for me, this is where the ‘before’ image comes from.

[Click and drag the line left or right to switch between 2008’s twitter page and today’s, and click here for a larger version]

To start with, I can imagine a former English teacher of mine entering into a fit of rage after taking a look at the 2008 homepage, given that her mantra of “show, don’t tell” has been completely ignored. Rather than display a peek at the ‘experience’ that Twitter delivers, the old Twitter homepage merely has quotations about why people should be using it. Bizarrely, one testimonial even references MySpace, which was well on its way to being metaphorically dead and buried at this point!

To be fair to Twitter, technology has developed a fair bit since 2008. HTML5 has increased the possibilities available to developers to include some great content alongside all of the traditional ‘sign in’ elements on a homepage, without over-cluttering a page. This means that the current Twitter page can also show and sell the Twitter ‘experience’ rather than just telling people what it is. In a way, it’s like a rare perfume advert that makes some sort of sense. One could also say that the service has gone from one that promotes people to communicate and share, to one that promotes people to partake in a vicarious experience.

In the same vein, Twitter’s inclusion of ‘tweeted’ pictures shows that they are trying to move away from just being a site that asks people to type out what they’re doing [in addition to Twitter actually removing the ‘What are you doing?’ question from the tweet box], and that the whole ‘point’ is for people to share what they are experiencing through images and other easily-digestible media. The next logical step for this would be to include Vine videos on the home page.

While most social networks would proudly proclaim to foster and enable one-to-one communication between people, Twitter could probably lay claim to being the site that people go to to catch up on what’s going on in the world. On an evening in June 2009, I found out that Michael Jackson had died on this very social network, and I wasn’t the only one – around 100,000 tweets per hour featured the king of pop’s name, and servers crashed as a result of the demand placed on them. Other events like this [as well as the ability for people to easily ‘livetweet’ things as they happen], have led to Twitter embracing the reputation as a news outlet, as evidenced by the ‘moments’ page, which allows even unregistered users to see what hot and happening events and news stories are breaking around the globe.

Finally, in a move to ‘seal the deal’ with new potential users quickly, the new user registration fields have been moved on to the homepage. It may not seem like much, but in a world where people are struggling to delay their online gratification, each second and each click of the mouse makes a difference.

A CHANGE IN USER BASE?

An old adage used to go round, where people said that: “Facebook is the people you actually went to high school with, Twitter’s the people you wish you went to high school with”. With Twitter’s immense growth [both through press coverage and through annoying people like me, telling everyone around me how great it is], the user base has dramatically changed. From personal experience, I’ve found that there is now quite an overlap between the people I communicate with on Facebook and Twitter. Many of the people I enjoyed engaging with have retired from tweeting on a full-time basis; instead opting to pop in every so often to make a cameo appearance if there is a cause they feel strongly enough about.

Some have gone far enough to say that the sense of humour on Twitter has changed – and I would be inclined to agree. In fact, I would argue that user habits as a whole on the site have been altered. Around six years ago, I could probably send over a thousand tweets in a month, and I wouldn’t’ve been the only one. My usage has dramatically decreased, partly due to a large percentage of my ‘network’ leaving the site, partly because the people now following me on the site will probably receive the same information through other means, and partly because I feel that tweets are received different to how the used to be.

And so here endeth our quick look back at what Twitter used to look like. With the company’s share price falling to an all-time low, who knows whether the site will survive the next eight years for us to see how it has changed? In the mean time, the microblogging site is hanging in there, and with innovations and progression in the form of Vine and Periscope, who knows where Twitter will be headed next?

What do you think about the changes that Twitter has made over the years? Where do you see them heading over the next decade? Will they last that long? Drop me a comment below!

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  1. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your content seem to be
    running off the screen in Internet explorer.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you
    know. The design and style look great though! Hope you get the problem resolved soon. Kudos

    • Thanks for letting me know and for your comment! Bizzarely, I just tried to view the site in IE, and it seemed to be fine. May I ask what version of IE you’re running? And on what operating system you’re running?
      Thanks! :)

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