Twitter’s Mobile Apps Begin to Look a Bit More Like Instagram

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Continuing its trudge toward becoming a more media-centric service, Twitter on Tuesday announced a new version of its iOS and Android mobile applications, giving more prominence to photos and video in the stream.

Instead of needing to click through to see an attached photo in your Twitter timeline, now users will see previews of pictures and videos captured with Vine within the stream as they thumb through it.

It’s a simple yet logical move for the microblogging service, which until now has primarily been relied upon for text-based updates in real-time. With the rise of Instagram over the past few years, users have flocked to more visual platforms, preferring to thumb through images and videos.

The move comes as Twitter aims to broaden its appeal to users, only weeks before the company makes its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange. While practically ingrained into the mainstream media consciousness, Twitter’s user growth rate has slowed year over year; the company is home to around 230 million monthly active users, far short of Facebook’s billion-plus member network.

Not to mention the obvious appeal to advertisers, which will receive more prominent billing in the Twitter feed when including pictures and Vine videos within their tweets. (Digiday’s take on this is good.)

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram did not help matters for Twitter. The microblogging network was in fierce competition with Facebook to acquire Instagram just a few years ago, but lost out to a last-minute billion-dollar offer directly from CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

As a result, Instagram later rescinded the ability to preview its photos from within the Twitter stream, requiring users to click an extra link in order to reach the Instagram shots. Not only was it annoying for users, it was a blow to Twitter, which lost a great deal of rich visual content.

Shortly after Twitter received the heads-up late last year that Instagram would cut off its integration, the company scrambled to figure out a solution to bringing filters into the Twitter app itself, according to sources familiar with the matter. To do that, Twitter contracted the services of Aviary, an outside company responsible for much of Twitter’s photo filter product.

Twitter certainly learned from the whole situation. What you won’t see are previews of photos uploaded from nonTwitter products; only photos uploaded via Twitter’s apps and services will show up in preview form. Same goes for Vine videos (but not for YouTube videos). No word on whether that will change in the future.

Expect the download to roll out for Android and iPhones on Tuesday.

Lockerz, Though Not Quite Dead, Raises $9 Million to Shift Focus to New Shopping Site Ador

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In the spring, reports surfaced that social commerce and photo-sharing service Lockerz was behind a new shoppable digital magazine called Ador.

Now, a new filing with the SEC published online today sheds more light.

Lockerz has rebranded its corporate name to Ador, and has raised $9 million of a possible $25 million round, the filing said.

Despite the document’s wording, Lockerz.com is still operational. In an interview, Q Shay, who identified himself as Ador’s chief operating officer, said that the company had considered shutting Lockerz.com completely, but that it currently has enough repeat visitors to justify keeping it up and running.

At the same time, the vast majority of spending will be invested into Ador.com going forward, not Lockerz, he said. Shay described the funding as a rights offering to its existing shareholders, which have included Kleiner Perkins and DAG Ventures.

The Ador site pulls in images of celebrities and models from fashion blogs and then surfaces either the exact clothes and accessories worn in the photos or ones similar to them. Ador users can then click through to the site where the product is sold to purchase the item, with Ador getting a cut through affiliate networks.

The service joins a crowded field of startups focused on creating a browsable shopping experience for the digital age.

“In our case, we are taking a far different approach and really focusing on a specific audience … those primarily interested in fashion,” said product chief Max Ciccotosto.

Shay acknowledged that there were layoffs earlier this year, but said the company has been hiring recently as it readied for Ador’s public launch earlier this month. He declined to disclose the current size of the staff.

At one time, Lockerz was one of Seattle’s biggest startup names, having raised more than $40 million for a service that gave users rewards points for taking actions such as uploading photos or watching videos. They could then use those points for discounts on clothing.

The startup also operated a photo-sharing service that drove significant traffic to Lockerz.com, but it shut down its API earlier this year, citing Twitter policy changes.

Lockerz’s founder and former CEO Kathy Savitt left the Seattle-based startup last year to become Yahoo’s chief marketing officer.

Could Google or Tencent Beat Facebook to Buying Snapchat?

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Right now, Snapchat is having its “belle of the ball” moment.

The mobile messaging service – which lets users exchange photos and video that disappear after a few seconds – is being courted by Facebook. It has long been an app that CEO Mark Zuckerberg lusted after.

Thursday afternoon brought another turn of the screw. Valleywag reported that Google could also possibly be considering taking a run at Snapchat, matching Facebook’s $3 billion to $3.5 billion offer. Google and Facebook aren’t commenting, but sources said that Google has indeed expressed some interest in a deal. Tencent, the Chinese consumer Internet company, has also been eyeballing the company, according to sources.

I don’t know Snapchat’s fate, and from what I’ve been told, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel himself is unsure of it. But it got me thinking – whether they’re in the running or not, which companies are most likely to go after the fast-growing Snapchat?

Let’s go down the list.

Facebook:
Zuckerberg wants Snapchat bad. So bad, in fact, that he tried – and failed – to clone the app outright. Sources familiar with the matter have described the Facebook CEO as “obsessed” with Snapchat and the idea of ephemeral messaging. They told AllThingsD that he has made multiple offers to acquire the company, some for more than the $1 billion he paid for Instagram last year.

Likelihood: Very High

Google:
Google may have Google+, but it knows it can’t hold a candle to Facebook or even Twitter when it comes to social mobile apps. Buying Snapchat could give Google immediate overnight relevance in social, while simultaneously dealing a blow to Facebook. Not to mention that $3 billion is a pittance for the highly profitable company to spend on an acquisition.

Likelihood: High

Tencent:
This is a good fit. Spiegel has described Tencent as a “role model” for Snapchat in terms of revenue models – potentially alluding to in-app purchasing possibilities for the startup.

And Tencent is indeed interested – if not in a full acquisition, then at the very least in a large strategic investment.

Likelihood: Very High

Yahoo:
A dark horse, and at this point not an entrant as far as I’ve heard. Still, CEO Marissa Mayer has the cash to make the deal, and is no stranger to acquisitions. Plus, an acquisition of Snapchat could help to both bolster Yahoo’s mobile efforts – which are lacking – and burnish its less-than-cool image – sort of like buying Tumblr did.

Still, there’s no evidence to my knowledge that Yahoo has approached Spiegel or Snapchat about a potential acquisition.

Likelihood: Unlikely

Twitter:
After long considering killing off its direct-messaging feature entirely, Twitter woke up last year and figured out that people actually love sending private messages. Another satellite app acquisition – similar to the one it did with Vine – could make sense.

Problem is, the figures being thrown around for Snapchat now are way out of Twitter’s price range. They’re nearly double the amount the company just raised in its initial public offering. At this point, Snapchat is far too rich for Twitter’s blood.

Likelihood: Not at all likely

A caveat to many of the past week’s stories on this topic: It’s possible – if not likely – that the escalating prices and number of companies involved is largely due to jockeying from Snapchat insiders who stand to make hundreds of millions on the deal. Read each new report with that in mind.

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Another thing to remember: Spiegel intends to raise yet another round of funding for his company at a hefty valuation. If another round goes through, there will likely be a secondary component to it, in which Spiegel and co-founder Bobby Murphy could sell some of their own shares and cash out. That means the two could still continue to go for broke and build out their own company rather than sell to the highest bidder, while having the insurance of already having taken some money off the table. And according to multiple people close to Snapchat, Spiegel and Murphy very much want to build out the startup into a full-fledged company.

Bottom line: If Snapchat keeps growing – and sources said that is indeed the case – Spiegel isn’t under the gun to make a decision today. If all goes well, his acquisition offers – and the high prices they command – likely won’t disappear.

Twitter Shares Down on Second Day Opening

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After a brief rise on Friday morning, shares of Twitter slipped in the second day of trading. The stock saw an early two-point slide for a four percent drop.

As of mid-Friday morning, TWTR was trading at around $42.50 per share. That’s down from its Thursday debut price of $45.10, but still up more than 70 percent from the $26 per share at which the stock was originally priced.

Chatter around the company’s debut continued into Friday, with commenters dividing into two camps – those who thought Twitter’s massive stock price pop was a good thing for retail and major investors and those who argued that with the surge of nearly $20 up from its pricing, Twitter left more than $1 billion on the table.

As analysts have reiterated, most of the early clamor for Twitter shares has been all on the promise of the company one day delivering big returns; as of today, Twitter is relatively small in both revenue and user numbers compared to its competitor Facebook, and continues not to turn a profit.

Twitter Has 100 Million Monthly Active Users; 50% Log In Every Day

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo revealed some interesting stats about Twitter’s growth, including that it has more than 100 million active users and that signups via iOS device have tripled since the launch of iOS 5.

Twitter has been on a roll in recent months. The company surpassed 200 million tweets per day in June, but has since jumped to nearly 250 million daily tweets. The growth has been tremendous: Twitter had around 100 million tweets per day in January 2011.

Costolo revealed these stats during an interview at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

Of those 100 million global active users, half of them log in daily. “We had 30% of our monthly active users loggin in every day at the beginning of the year. Now it’s over 50%,” Costolo revealed.

The company’s growth amounts to about 40% quarter on quarter. But perhaps the most interesting stat is the impact of iOS 5 on Twitter. Apple’s mobile OS directly integrates Twitter, and that has resulted in a boost for the company. Costolo revealed that Twitter signups via iOS 5 devices have tripled since the launch of that iOS update.

Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

162642967 520x245 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

It’s been a little over three months since Twitter #Music was launched on the Web and iOS. The release signalled Twitter’s desire to broaden its influence on the Web. To be more. To leverage the ever-increasing number of tweets to disrupt the status-quo.

Yet for all its hype, Twitter #Music has been a disappointment. The mobile app sits patiently in a folder on my iPhone, gathering virtual dust and a sense of increasing irrelevancy. I have no desire to open it. Perhaps that’ll change with a future update, but for now it remains rather useless.

It’s not just me either. I’ve asked friends and family what their go-to app is for listening to music on the move. Spotify, Rdio and the default iOS Music app rank high. Twitter #Music does not.

Admittedly, that’s a small group of people to poll. But a quick inspection of the top free music apps in the App Store tells a similar story. Alongside the apps I just mentioned are Deezer, Soundcloud and Shazam, as well as a bunch of emerging services such as Bloom.fm filling out the top 20.

Twitter #Music isn’t featured. Nor is it in the top 50. Top 100? Nope. Top 200? Nope. At the time of writing, the app sits ranked 285. Ouch.

So why is no-one using it?

The purpose of the Twitter #Music app is three-fold; help listeners discover new music; act as an overlay for playing said music; incentivize the music industry – particularly artists and labels – to continue engaging with their fans on Twitter.

To help users find a bunch of brilliant new records, the app offers five charts with rather ambiguous names such as ‘Emerging’, ‘Unearthed’ and ‘Hunted’. They all sound inviting, but I couldn’t tell you what the difference is between any of the three.

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Tapping one reveals a very compact grid filled with tiny square display pictures. Each of them represents an artist and they’re ranked in accordance with their popularity. The interface is pretty terrible though and at times completely bewildering. The various images are the size of my fingernail and reveal next to nothing about the artist or the sort of music they play. Twitter has also chosen to show their Twitter handle by default – rather than the artist’s name – which only adds to the confusion.

Selecting a specific artist then reveals a jarring profile page that tries to blend both their Twitter account and more of these tiny cuboid images. It’s the same story in the app’s ‘Suggested’ and ‘#NowPlaying’ sections. Everything feels unrefined and lacks consistent aesthetics.

Too many alternatives that are just better

Discovering new music should be a visually stunning and frictionless experience. Soundwave, Bloom.fm and even the ‘Discover’ tab in Spotify do a much better job of this than Twitter #Music by keeping their respective interfaces refreshingly simple and uncluttered. Twitter’s mobile app just feels messy in comparison.

Twitter #Music would also be a novel proposition if it offered its own digital storefront or an on-demand streaming service. But it doesn’t do that either. Tracks are either 30-second previews from iTunes with direct store links – another bid to get music labels and artists on side – or only supported with an active Spotify or Rdio subscription.

twittermusic2 Does anyone still use Twitter #Music? Why the Web and iOS app are quickly fading into obscurity

It begs the question though: why would a Spotify or Rdio subscriber leave their dedicated mobile app for this? There’s no way to create custom playlists, queue tracks or access premium features offered by these more robust and expansive services. The idea, presumably, is to reinforce Twitter #Music’s discovery options by giving users the ability to listen to new tracks in their entirety.

Twitter #Music lacks a defining feature or hook to keep users engaged. It’s an odd blend of ideas that never seem to mesh or offer a significant value proposition to the listener. There’s some potential here though and plenty of time for Twitter to turn it around – but no wonder it’s performing so poorly in the App Store at the moment.

Image Credit: David Ramos/Getty Images