Photo: By anniehp on flickr
As Twitter Inc. starts to take over more of the key parts of the Twitter ecosystem — like buying/building its own mobile apps, setting up its own URL shortener, etc. — it’s only a matter of time until it launches its own photo sharing service. We’ve heard rumours that Twitter is already building such a service. And we’ve heard separately that it had tried to acquire Twitpic, but that Twitpic had wanted way too much money, so the deal didn’t happen.
Either way, we expect something to materialise this year, and for Twitter to launch its own photo service.
And Twitter’s new site (“NewTwitter”) is already laying the foundation for it.
How? By embedding photos directly into the “details” tab for tweets.
In this example below, you can see that the Instagram photo we tweeted shows up as both a link to Instagram, and also embedded directly into the Twitter interface. (We’ve circled a little icon in the tweet stream that shows there’s a photo to look at. And we’ve put an arrow next to the embedded photo.)
Twitter currently does this for photos hosted by Twitpic, Yfrog, Instagram, and other multimedia sites, such as Blip.tv, Rdio, and Slideshare.
What does this accomplish? Beyond offering a cleaner user experience — no more having to click through to someone else’s site to see a photo — Twitter is starting to squeeze out the photo providers.
Before, you had to click through to see images. Now you don’t. That’s driving less traffic, relevance, and ad revenue to the photo services, while increasing their costs (bandwidth and storage for photos). And the user doesn’t have to know (or care) which service is hosting the photo anymore — it’s just there.
Then Twitter can swap in its own photo uploading and hosting service, and no one will notice a thing. On Twitter’s website and other supported clients, the photos will appear inline; on other clients, they can appear as links, just as they do now.
Why do any of this?
Sharing photos turns out to be one of the most important uses of Twitter. According to comScore, Twitpic.com has about one-fourth the number of U.S. visitors (6.9 million) as Twitter.com (24 million), though growth for both has hit the wall.
And as Twitter moves deeper into selling ads, advertisers are eventually going to want to stick images and/or video in their Twitter ads, and they shouldn’t have to rely on a third party for something like that.
Today, Twitter users have many options for sharing photos, but it’s quite a bit of extra work, especially if you’re using the main Twitter website. Instagram has recently become very popular for posting images to Twitter from an iPhone, while other Twitter apps use Yfrog, and many other users still use Twitpic.
But these services add complexity. And they prevent Twitter from having basic built-in photo features, like, say, a single place to go to browse all the photos you’ve ever posted to Twitter.
So we expect Twitter to roll out a photo service sometime this year. They’re already laying the foundation. Stay tuned.