Twitter has redesigned its homepage in a way that emphasises its real-time search capability and intends to make the social networking site more accessible to first-time users.
The site's former home page simply asked users "what are you doing ?" and described itself as a communication service based on answers to this question, which did not give new visitors much of an idea about what the site could offer them. Now, the most prominent section of the page is a search box with the tagline "See what people are saying about..." The Twitter blog highlights the new home page's attempt to attract more users as "demonstrating the power of Twitter as a discovery engine for what is happening right now" is likely to prompt more interest.
This appeal of the search function is enhanced the lists shown on the page of the most popular topics by minute, day and week that are being discussed on Twitter. Clicking on any of the topics takes the user to the search results page showing all the tweets that have mentioned that topic. This is a fascinating resource for anybody who would like to get an idea of what the social network's enthusiastic Internet-savvy community is discussing. It also reflects what the Twitter blog describes as the site's move "from simple social networking into a new kind of communication and a valuable source of timely information." This move was not planned by its founders, rather "the service has taught us what it wants to be."
The move to make the service more accessible might seem particularly pertinent given that a recent poll reported that 69% of the American adults it surveyed did not know enough about Twitter to comment on the service. The Los Angeles Times reported on the LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll which found that only 17% of advertisers said that they did not know much about the service, showing that the some sectors of the nation are, unsurprisingly, better informed about its potential. One could assume that nearly all journalists are pretty aware also.
However, a boost to the perception of Twitter's importance to communications has just been given by the UK government, whose departments have been provided with a 20-page strategy paper on how to use the site. Neil Williams, head of corporate digital channels at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, admits that a 20-page document might seem "a bit over the top" for a tool like Twitter but thought that there was a lot that was worth saying. The document lays out different objectives and metrics, risks, tone to be used, picture to use, content principles, use of hashtags, retweeting policy and more.
As more and more people and institutions such as the UK government use Twitter, it becomes a more and more useful resource for journalists looking for stories or simply trying to stay up-to-date in their areas of interest. And although many reporters would have probably been aware of the 'trending topics' section on pages within the site, the home page's new lists of popular topics over different time periods could be an extremely useful development in assessing what issues matter to people. The statistics from the US poll show, however, that newspapers must only be reaching a small percentage of their audience when they publicise articles on Twitter. Will the new homepage draw more users in? Only time will tell, but its new concentration on search possibilities seems a move in the right direction.