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As a result, Instagram later rescinded the ability to preview its photos from within the Twitter stream, requiring users to click an extra link in order to reach the Instagram shots.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.

About Those Google+ User Numbers …

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Since its inception, it has been tough to tell just how well Google’s social network, Google+, is doing. Every time Google+ releases a new set of user number statistics, their accuracy and methods are almost immediately called into question.

According to information released on Thursday, it seems that skepticism was well warranted.

Take Amir Efrati’s Thursday morning story on Google+, which called into question the 300 million active, “in the stream” user visits Google+ recently claimed it received each month.

As Efrati wrote, citing anonymous sources, and Google confirmed to AllThingsD, the “stream” is more broadly defined than one would think. It also means clicking on the little red bell or share icons you see across all of Google’s properties.

Quoth Google, in a statement to AllThingsD:

“Yes, clicking on the notifications bell does count in our monthly actives metric for the Stream. If you click anywhere which leads to the Stream being loaded and displayed, we count you as viewing the Stream. The Stream is rendered on mobile (Android and iOS), on the Web at plus.google.com, and when you click and open a notification view of the Stream on desktop properties.”

To be fair to Google+, yes, you can still reach and use Google+ from all other Google sites. Click the bell when you’re in your Gmail account screen and you’ll indeed be presented with a small, stream-like view of Google+ content. It’s possible that people are sharing from there.

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And what’s more, competitors like Facebook also define monthly active users fairly broadly. The numbers include people who use third-party website widgets to share – the “Like” or “tweet” buttons you’ll see on sites like ours, for instance.

The problem is, as Google presents it, we can’t tell if users actually intend to use and share on Google+, or if they’re just clicking on the notifications bell to get rid of it – glaring red and bright against the plain white and gray background of Google’s properties.

So this leaves us, the critics and skeptics, back at a bit of a loss. Perhaps there are a significant number of people actively using and sharing on Google+ from other Google-owned sites.

Or perhaps it’s as dead as lots of people like to joke it is.

We just don’t know. And until Google decides to break down specifically how and from where people are visiting “the stream,” I doubt we’ll ever really have a notion of the network’s health.