When Twitter started, it was just a service where you could post status messages on the Web via text message. It would soon take on a life of its own. Developers saw the value that Twitter could bring and started developing apps, clients and revenue models. Twitter, without really meaning to, had become a platform.
That platform, as Twitter generally saw it, was a threat to Twitter itself. In the past several years, Twitter has restricted access to its APIs, cut off some developer shops entirely and consolidated control of the platform to its own headquarters. The developer community was outraged.
Twitter may have had a method to its madness. Yesterday, Twitter gave birth to “Cards” – a way for developers and media to connect their apps, media, products, photos, videos and galleries to Tweets. Cards is kind of a reverse method for Twitter to re-open its platform to developers and media. Consider it Twitter’s way of giving back to the developers it once spurned.
What Are Twitter Cards?
Twitter is getting meta. Metadata, that is.
Essentially, Cards is all about metadata. If you are unfamiliar with the term, metadata is data that describes other kinds of data. For instance, where did a Tweet come from (an app, publication, button)? What location did it come from and what time of day? What kind of media is attached to it? Twitter has long kept track of this data and allowed developers to use some of it. Most users on Twitter have little idea that one Tweet can generate more than a dozen different data points.
Twitter is now taking some of that data and making it forward facing to the public. Developers can access this data by choosing the type of Card they want (there are six kinds), inserting the proper meta tags and validating the content through Twitter. By doing that, Cards will be able to connect straight from Twitter to a variety of media, including apps. Or products. Twitter calls this process of “deep linking.”
What does that mean though? “Twitter now directly links to my app?” Really, it means exactly what it says.
Let’s take the example of mobile social network Path. I, the user, post a picture to Path and tweet it from the Path app for Android or iOS. You, my follower, see that photo and open the tweet from on the Web, mobile Web, iOS or Android.
Since Path has set up Cards, on the bottom of you the tweet you will see “Get the Path app.” Click on that and Twitter will send you straight to Path on your device. If you don’t have Path installed, you will be directed to sign up for the service.
For web sites, it is similar. Say I post one of my articles to Twitter (which I do, often). The Card will give a preview of my article and on the bottom it will say “View on ReadWrite.” That button will take you to the ReadWrite web site on whatever device you are using. We do not have a dedicated app for Android or iOS anymore, but if we did we could direct you there, too.
There are six kinds of Cards that you can now create. Per Twitter’s own description:
- Summary Card: Default card, including a title, description, thumbnail and Twitter account attribution
- Photo Card: A Tweet sized photo card
- Gallery Card: A Tweet card geared toward highlighting a collection of photos
- App Card: A Tweet card for providing a profile of an application
- Player Card: A Tweet sized video/audio/media player card
- Product Card: A Tweet card to better represent product content
What Is New?
The concept of Cards is not actually new at Twitter. Showing the preview of photos, articles and web sites from a link has been available since the middle of 2012. What is new are the expansion of the types of cards as well as the update to the Android, iOS and mobile web apps.
This is where it gets interesting.
Twitter has created the capability to send users all over the Internet. We are not just talking about links anymore. We are talking native apps, mobile web sites, or various types of media that can either stand alone or live within those apps. Twitter has basically just created a platform that can act as a directional compass for the Internet. One word for that is “platform.”
Platform is a very developer-centric term. When it comes to the Web and mobile apps, it more or less means “something that can be built on top of.” For Twitter, Cards has another type of connotation for its users:
Portal has become something of a nasty word on the Web over the past several years. When we think portal, we think of the old AOL homepage or Yahoo or even iGoogle (which Google will kill on Nov. 1, 2013). Twitter Cards are like Portal 2.0, in a similar manner that Facebook has become. Portal 2.0 is inherently social and does not just send you to other Web content the way the original portals did. Portal 2.0 can send you a variety of types of media, like the app or the product page.
For instance, an enterprising company could use Cards to link to a product, like a pair of sunglasses. You could then purchase those new sunglasses from the site. Twitter could even be the arbiter of the transaction by using your account as authentication, tied to a credit card or other payment service.
So, Cards as an example of Portal 2.0 are social, mobile, directional, built as a platform and, perhaps, transactional.