It’s a famous origin story, and one you probably already know. The hot app at SXSW in 2007 was Twitter. Even WIRED was on board. So it’s only fitting that SXSW is where the company is unveiling a new camera feature. Starting today and rolling out over the next week or so, users of the Twitter app on iOS and Android will be able to take and post photos using an in-app camera.
How does it work? Open the app, then swipe left to open the camera. You can either capture a still by tapping the camera button or hold the button to record video, up to two minutes and 40 seconds (280 seconds, get it?). You can also toggle over to “Live” to stream from your location.
If a user has geo-locating services turned on, Twitter recommends nearby locations to tag. It also suggests relevant event hashtags near you. For instance, in downtown Austin this week, #SXSW is suggested as a relevant hashtag. Or, say you’re at a Warriors game at Oracle Stadium, and something crazy happens at the game; the camera knows you’re there and suggests the hashtag. If you select the event hashtag, your photo shows up in the stream of other tweets and images also using it. (Users of Snapchat might recognize this as something similar to what it did with the local ‘Our Story’ feature.)
You can add a caption to your image, and, as a fun little bonus, change the background color of the tweet text (finally, a use for your elementary knowledge of the color wheel). Press “Tweet,” and presto, you’ve contributed to the conversation.
Why roll out an in-app camera function? Twitter is clearly trying to compete in an increasingly visual-focused world. But it’s also a small but interesting step in the transition of a company that understands its place in society as a means to engage with real-time information. This seems like a natural extension of the way people already use Twitter: as a way to capture a moment and quickly send it out to the world (the camera is outward-facing, though it does have front-facing capability). The camera is in early development now, but in the long run, the company wants the camera functionality to automatically detect what events are happening in certain places, and suggest trending event hashtags as a means to organize images and videos into feeds for people who are following that event.
Of course, other apps, like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, have in-app cameras and geo-locating abilities. It’s easy to be a cynic and see this as the continued homogenization of social media. Or, if you’re a Twitter purist, to think of this as a deviation from the app’s longstanding history as a primarily text-based experience. Does it degrade Twitter’s identity? Or help it compete? Probably both. The one thing that’s certain is avid users will have thoughts. And now they can stream them straight from the app.