A Radically New

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For most of its history, Twitter hasn’t exactly had a reputation for rushing headlong into major changes. Actually, the company has been remarkably conservative–for as long as people have been using the service to share photos, videos, maps, and other information, it’s been obvious that would be cool if you could see all that stuff without leaving Twitter and wandering off to another site. Yet wandering off has remained a core part of the Twitter experience. (More on TechlandWhat Does The New Twitter Actually Do? A Picture Guide For The Updated Features)

Twitter Inc. invited tech journalists to an event at its San Francisco headquarters today–the first Apple/Google-style mystery unveiling it’s ever held–and the news turned out to be a whole lot of evolution all at once. The company is launching a massive revamping of–one that embeds media from partners such as Justin.TV, Ustream, YouTube, and Flickr, and  which sports an all-new interface that divides the screen into a tweet stream on the left and a great big panel on the right that displays detailed information about tweets and Twitter users. (The latter section is where the embedded media appears–you don’t see it until you click on it, in hopes of keeping the basic Twitter experience simple.) (More on Techland: Twitter joins the iPad family)

The new look reminds me quite a bit of Twitter for iPad, the inventive official Twitter app which launched a couple of weeks ago. (It sports a similar right-hand panel.) It’s also more compelling competition for third-party clients such as Twitterific, TweetDeck, and Seesmic, although there’s still plenty of room for them–for one thing, the new interface doesn’t support multiple accounts.

Twitter CEO Ev Williams led up to the big announcement by emphasizing that you don’t need to tweet to use Twitter any more than you need to create Web pages to use the Web. That helps explain the overall concepts behind the new look: It’s not so much about making it easier to tweet as it is about simplifying consuming tweets in mass quantities. (More on Techland: What Happens To Your Twitter Account When You Die?)

Only a small percentage of Twitter users are getting access to the new version right away; the company will roll it out to everybody over time. But it’s being cautious about setting a timetable, saying it wants to get the launch right rather than do it quickly–which makes sense given that the Failwhale isn’t exactly an endangered species. (With luck, he might be on his way to extinction, though: Twitter says the new design is based on a reworking of its architecture that will be more reliable.)

Those of us who showed up at Twitter HQ are among the folks who have been let into the new version today. I’m going to run off and give it a try. Let us know if you’ve got it yet–and if so, what you think about it.

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