This week, Twitter unveiled a new design for their website, and I think it’s a really important step in the evolution of their service, and web services in general.
The fact that Twitter has such an open and powerful API is what has allowed a thriving ecosystem of apps and services to grow and evolve. This is Twitter’s success: the micro-blogging service in and of itself isn’t the main catalyst for it’s wide adoption, it’s the way the core service can be used, applied and integrated in so many different ways, on any platform, anywhere there is a data network. It has, essentially, created an accessible, non-passive use for portable, mobile computing.
Despite languishing with a slightly ageing design, and with so many different apps around for accessing the micro-blogging service, it’s quite surprising that twitter.com is still used by the majority of users. The fact is though, that despite nonsense claims to the contrary, most of our online activity still takes place on the web, particularly when it comes to interactions. The browser is still the best choice for, well: browsing.
Apple popularised the model of the “app”, making software sexy again. Installing bespoke, well-designed apps to access your favourite online services is quick and easy – and they’ve proven that we’re willing to pay for that speed and ease. If we have so much choice when it comes to shaping our experience of Twitter, then why is their website so important?
Something is changing. Software – whether it be installed apps, or web apps – are becoming easier to use, and our online interactions are becoming ubiquitous with our everyday lives. Without even knowing it, we’re all becoming power users. We’re demanding better online experiences; we’re demanding more immersive online experiences.
The fact is that the browser is still the best platform for developing online applications, and the new twitter.com proves that. Embedded media available instantly? Show me a desktop or mobile app that can do that as elegantly. Infinite scrolling? Even the super-elegant Twitter for iPhone app does this clunkily. Related content? Inline bio panels? True, not every user wants these features all the time, but when you do want them, the browser delivers the best experience. And it’s quite telling that the new design is based so heavily on the Twitter iPad app: I think it says a lot about the kind of interactive design we’re coming to expect as we move into a new era of portable, cloud computing.
And, yes: desktop or mobile applications can be developed which do the same things. But the frameworks and development tools of the web have matured to a point where it is possible to develop and roll out these kinds of advanced features with ease. Want to roll out a new feature for an installed app? Develop, deploy, wait for the user to upgrade. Want to roll out a new feature on a web app? Develop, deploy – as often as you like. Services, APIs and applications are all well and good, but when it comes to getting the most immersive, immediate and adaptable experience: HTML is still king.
The browser as a platform: I think we’re finally there.