What Photo Tagging Tells Us About Twitter's Future

Twitter is slowly paving the way for a more user-friendly landscape.

On Wednesday afternoon, Twitter announced a new feature that allows you to tag other people in photos. It rolls out first on the iPhone, effective today, and Android and Twitter.com next.

Photo tagging on Twitter works much like Facebook: Once you upload a photo--up to four at a time--you'll be able to tag up to 10 people in each picture. If you are tagged by someone else, you will receive a notification.



Sure, we've seen Twitter take some cues from Facebook before (and vice versa). But what makes this particular rollout notable is that tagging users as they appear in an image doesn't eat into your existing 140-character count. This is big. Taken at face value, it would seem to reinforce previous hints that Twitter is working to move its existing scaffolding--things that eat into the character limit, like @ replies and hashtags--into the background of the service. Twitter already does this to an extent in the form of its retweet button, which is intended to replace the manual RT and lend more accurate attribution.

Tagging lends some clarity to Twitter's future roadmap. It isn't hard to imagine that, pretty soon, one will be able to tag other users in tweets without consuming valuable character spaces. This would, in theory, expand what some would deem an archaic 140 character limit for the first time in the service's history.

Such a change would reshape the familiar landscape of what Twitter users have come to know. More importantly, it would erase some of the insular language and nuances that make Twitter indispensable (and adored) by the people who use it most. (See ya later, Twitter canoes.)

A change could also make Twitter more appealing to potential new users who might find the sight of a hashtag-laden tweet alienating, or even hostile. If your mother finds your #social #media #ninja #foodie Twitter bio confusing, that is a big problem for the platform. Twitter has been outspoken about its intimidating onboarding process before--that is, attracting uninitiated new users to the service--and the statistics reflect this: The median Twitter user only has one follower.

"We're not delivering the product as we should," COO Ali Rowghani told Fast Company last fall, referring to some of Twitter's more cryptic jargon. Twitter sees quote-unquote "regular" users key to its future growth. And, as we've seen again and again recently, it is finally making tangible changes to fix that.

[Image: Flickr user Richard Hurd]

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