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September 21, 2010

Social Media Experts, Marketers Quake at #NewTwitter

If one had 140 characters for every blog post that has been written covering every nuance of the new Twitter layout since its debut last week, it would likely rival Wikipedia for sheer size, and its content would trail it in pure excitement. And as the new Twitter (affectionally tagged as #NewTwitter) rolls out to the drooling masses in coming weeks, some who feel they have mastered the microblogging platform will find that amidst all the new screen real estate and widgetry, they've lost a big chunk of their ability to personalize their identity on the site - as one of the more popular grassroots movements, customization of one's background with contact information, is practically eliminated.

For nearly all entry level to mid-level social media experts, a key aspect of their Twitter customization repertoire has been the modifying of one's page background to serve as an informal calling card. Individuals and brands alike (myself included) often post e-mail addresses, provide more detailed biographical information, and instruct people on what they can expect from their tweets.

Loic Le Meur (@loic) uses it to show his presence on YouTube, Facebook and Seesmic. Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) highlights his work and book sales. Brian Solis (@briansolis) provides his e-mail address, Facebook URL and Web site. It's practically expected.

Google shows 36,000 results with the phrase to "customize your twitter background" and sites like Mashable have devoted entire tutorials on how to create custom backgrounds that offer personalization, expression and contact information.

Chris and Loic Under the New Twitter Spotlight

But the "New Twitter" does away with almost all that space. Chris Brogan is reduced to a "Ch". Loic's background provides no information at all, and yes, mine has to be redrawn as well - assuming I'll make it a priority. It's all in the name of progress - cutting out personalization in exchange for new features - including the much-discussed multimedia in the stream and right hand pane, which may some day serve as a good place for Twitter's monetization efforts.

The result is not dramatic, in theory. Individual tweets within the new Twitter are centered (as before) and display more of the traditional background. (Like this one) One could also double down on their avatar and simple 160 character description in the bio, considering that "good enough", as Twitter again does what I think is well-intended, but catches some users by surprise - opting to do what they believe is best, even if it runs contrary to public opinion.

Doug Says Customized Twitter Backgrounds With Info Were A No No

Owen Questions Twitter's Wisdom at Ignoring Users

When called on the carpet by VentureBeat writer Owen Thomas (@owenthomas) about the changes, designer Doug Bowman (@stop) said the act of putting text in the background image had never been supported. Owen pointed to other user-generated behavior, including retweets, @replies and hashtags as good examples that users know best, but it doesn't seem there will be a rollback of the idea.

The New Twitter also reduces the options for some services to market themselves. Instead of seeing "From TweetDeck", "From Tweetie for Mac", "From Seesmic for Android" and so on down the line, the New Twitter no longer displays Tweet sources. I assume this is to reduce confusion from new users, and to focus on the content of the tweet instead of its source, but again, Twitter's full motives cannot be divined. Meanwhile, as with the background issue, the source displays itself in full on the direct tweet page.

Since the launch of "New Twitter", I have already seen friends and businesses ask for the right guidance in personalizing their Twitter experience, and finding their old approach to page backgrounds is going to be evaporated in coming weeks as the new site rolls out. With the many features and functionality, it comes at a small price. I eagerly await 36,000 more results in Google telling us how we all need to adjust to single-word skinny backgrounds (align left) to tell our story. Mine just might drop my e-mail and blog URL, and the rest will all have to be found somewhere else - say... Google. Or Facebook. But not Twitter.