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Why Adding Photo-Sharing Makes Sense For Twitter

Rumors say Twitter will be expanding its core feature set. Here’s how that helps the company win.

Katy Perry Twitpic

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News leaked out Monday that Twitter will soon be announcing plans to add photo-sharing to its core feature set.

No details were available about what that would look like or how it would work–and the company declined to comment. But it’s possible the feature would give users similar capabilities to those they currently enjoy from third-party apps like TwitPic and yfrog. That is: The ability to take a picture with a smartphone and, with the click of a few buttons, upload it to the Internet and post it to Twitter.

It would be the latest in a string of actions taken to bring popular Twitter functions to Twitter itself–by acquisition or by developing them itself–rather than leaving the features to third-party app developers.

Twitter’s leaders have talked plenty about about third-party apps. They can extend Twitter’s capabilities, but they can also turn off the more casual, less tech-savvy user. And Twitter needs to recruit those users to grow. While Facebook has over half a billion users, Twitter still only has 175 million. (And Business Insider today suggests the number of active users might be even lower than that.)

Growth is the reason, for example, that the company bought Tweetie, the maker of an iPhone app that let people send and read tweets on their phones. Before the acquisition, as then-CEO Ev Williams explained at an event last year, some users would search the App Store for “Twitter.” And since there wasn’t an app called “Twitter” (Tweetie was called “Tweetie”), they didn’t find one and simply assumed one didn’t exist and thus didn’t think they could use Twitter from their phone. Buying Tweetie allowed the company to rebrand the app so new customers could find it–and use it.

It’s this same thinking that prompted the company to launch a redesign of its interface last fall–to help new users more quickly discover how to use the service. And it’s why the company redesigned its homepage earlier this year–to better understand how to use the service.

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Back in March, director of platform Ryan Sarver, who’s responsible helping outside companies build applications on top of Twitter, told developers that making the service easier for new users was one of the company’s top priorities. And he talked about how the experience of using different apps, that worked in different ways, sometimes slowed them down.

“Our user research shows that consumers continue to be confused by the different ways that a fractured landscape of third-party Twitter clients display tweets and let users interact with core Twitter functions,” Sarver wrote on Twitter’s forum for developers. He also noted that 90% of Twitter users “use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis.”

All of which leads to this week’s expected photo-sharing announcement. Twitter users like to type status updates, but they also like to share photos. If it’s too hard for many of them to figure out how to use a TwitPic or yfrog–or even to realize that they exist–then it makes perfect sense for Twitter to do what it needs to do to improve that experience. And that just might mean bringing those features in-house.

Read also: Most Innovative Companies: Twitter

[Image: Twitpic]

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com’s Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter. Email.

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About the author

E.B. Boyd (@ebboyd) has holed up in conference rooms with pioneers in Silicon Valley and hunkered down in bunkers with soldiers in Afghanistan.

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