Twitter turns up the heat on Facebook, Google

Twitter's overhaul of its home page will be a great benefit to users, and also turn up the competitive heat on both Facebook and Google. By making it easier to share photos and videos, Twitter butts heads with Facebook, because that's one of the main things people do there. Also, Twitter wants to become the place people go to find out what's going on. Isn't that Google's job?

Twitter on Wednesday announced it's remodeling its home page, making it a more attractive user interface for the social network. The page will show images, videos, and selected other content inline, through deals with about a dozen of the most popular media sharing services, including Etsy, Flickr, Justin.TV, Plixi, TwitPic, USTREAM, Vimeo, yfrog, YouTube, and more.

The right-hand pane of the home page gets revamped so that when you click on a tweet you get related information, such as those embedded media, as well as the location of the tweet, a mini-profile of the person who sent it, tweets the original may have been a reply to and more. You can navigate through the tweets with keyboard shortcuts .

All in all, the changes turn Twitter.com, the home page, into a sleek, powerful Twitter client. (Or, at least, that's how it looks -- the changes are rolling out to users in phases, and my account hasn't been activated for the switch yet.)

The changes are designed to make it easier for people to consume twitter, without having to send a single tweet, said CEO Evan Williams, who sent a stream of 10 tweets to cover the news for Tuesday's announcement:

You don’t need to tweet to get value from Twitter any more than you need to make a web page to use the web.less than a minute ago via web

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Evan Williams

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In addition to stepping up the competition with Facebook and Google, the new Twitter.com potentially puts Twitter in competition with some of its own partners, the companies that make dedicated Twitter clients like TweetDeck.

Twitter.com has always been the most popular Twitter client. 78% of active users have used it in the last 30 days. http://t.co/cDH1P0jless than a minute ago via web

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Evan Williams

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By the way, earlier I described Twitter as a "social network." But Twitter wants us to know they're not that.

@bwertz What social network ambitions? We've never called it a social network or designed it that way.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

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Evan Williams

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So what is Twitter if it's not a social network? "Twitter is for news. Twitter is for content. Twitter is for information," says Sarah Perez, writing at ReadWriteWeb, paraphrasing remarks by Kevin Thau, Twitter's VP for business and corporate development. People turn to Twitter to find out what's going on. "Besides breaking news, Twitter is also a network for discussing politics, global news, entertainment (Thau noted that Kanye's apology to Taylor Swift was one of the most re-tweeted of all time), sports, humor and more,"

If that's truly Twitter's strategy, that's disappointing. We live in a society that's too fragmented, too consumer-oriented. We don't know who our neighbors are, we lose touch with our friends and family. We consume and buy too much, and create too little. Social networks are hugely important in that they provide means to connect people with each other, and encourage people to create things and share their creations. That's far more important than becoming yet another channel for celebrity gossip.

Indeed, I had to think for a few minutes to remember who Kanye is, who Taylor Swift is, and what that apology was all about -- and I'm rather troubled that I'm wasting brain cells retaining that knowledge at all. Because it doesn't matter.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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