Twitter’s new photo-sharing feature, rolling out to users over the coming weeks, is a big story, and one that will do serious damage to the business of existing third party image-hosting platforms. Assuming, that is, they get it right.
What? Oh. I forgot. It’s Twitter.
Late last night, the official Twitter account unveiled what I believe is the first photo using this new technology (which is hosted behind-the-scenes on Photobucket), and immediately a couple of things are made clear. One, it’s (as you would have expected) a picture of a bird, but two, and vitally, it doesn’t appear to come with a shortened URL. And with a service that has built a platform and reputation that demands the conservation of characters, that decision seems utterly, and unfathomably, ridiculous.
Here’s the photo:
Very pleasant, if a little clichéd. But take a look at the URL (pic.twitter.com/qbJx26r) for that picture – it’s 23 characters long. And that’s without the http:// part that most people will use and most Twitter clients insist upon to make the links actually clickable.
(On Hootsuite, the Twitter link was converted to Twitter’s t.co URL shortener, and was 19 characters long, but oddly, isn’t clickable.)
With the http://, this link is 30 characters long. Thirty characters! Given that it’s good practice to leave 20 characters for retweets, that means you only get 90 characters to play with for your message (140-30-20=90).
It goes without saying that this is a bafflingly naïve move from Twitter. Even with http://, the standard yfrog URL is 24 characters. Any bit.ly link is just 20 characters. It might sound trivial, but giving up 6-10 characters to share a photo is asking a lot. So much so, I would say, that a lot of users will likely shorten Twitter’s URL through something more practical – especially on retweets.
On the video Twitter made to show off their new service, uploaded photos are automatically attached to the tweet, but the image is then converted to a link, as we can see from this screenshot showing how it will work.
So, unless this link is included on top of the 140-character limit – which seems very unlikely unless Twitter really has lost its marbles – the user will either need to be very conscious of how many characters he has for text. Alternatively, Twitter will have to impose a limit of 110 free characters, or implement something hideous like cutting off your copy with the dreaded ‘…’ at the end before the link.
(It’s also worth noting that if you click on any pic.twitter.com URL it goes to the tweet itself where the image is then displayed – not to any external page. This, of course, keeps users on Twitter. Wonder how long Photobucket ummed and ahhed over that?)
This is definitely legitimate, as Twitter business development lead Doug Williams has also shared a photo using pic.twitter.com.
All in all, it seems very, very messy indeed, and depressingly poorly thought out. It had been speculated that Twitter might use the twimg.com URL they own for shortened links, but even that would mean at least 22 characters. So, here’s my question: why not just use t.co for everything? At 19 characters max, it beats even bit.ly.
And when every single letter, space, punctuation mark and symbol within a tweet has serious real estate value, that alone would have given Twitter’s much-hyped photo-sharer some major clout and some serious bargaining power when trying to convince users to switch from their favourite image tool. New and official app users will still do this in their droves, of course, but veterans, die hards, old hands and power users – that is, those people who have the biggest influence on the Twitter ecosystem – might not be so easily convinced, much like they weren’t so easily swayed by the mishandled adaptation of the retweet. And that, dear Twitter, in the short term and the long, might turn out to be a bit of a problem.