Twitter made a pretty big announcement yesterday evening. No, it wasn’t the expected additional features such as an analytics package, a suite of business-friendly features or anything else that would have been super-cool for corporate users.

Instead what was revealed was a redesigned user interface that, quite frankly, looks a lot like an app that would have been created to piggyback off of Twitter. Indeed some people have compared it to the official Twitter iPad app.

Twitter New

The emphasis on the redesign is instead on rich media and the updates can’t help but be compared to how Facebook has become more friendly to photos and videos over time, which needs to be put in the context that Facebook has modified their status updates to mimic how Twitter has been used. So it’s interesting that Twitter has taken some features from the dominant social network considering they pointed out that they did not want to be considered a social network but instead a communications network.

The new look, which will be rolling out to users over the course of the next couple weeks, splits the logged-in home page in to two columns. When a user mouses over an individual tweet in the left column, the right hand side expands to show the tweet enlarged, that person’s profile as well as showing any photos or videos that have been linked to in that update.

This mimics some of the functionality that has been available on some of the third-party applications such as Tweetdeck, which pops up videos and photos within the app and Brizzly, which takes a similar approach to multimedia presentations. Users can then view the video, for instance, right there in the right-hand column. You’ll also be able to see how many times that update has been re-tweeted and view other tweets using a hashtag if one is included. The rich media inclusion is the result of a partnerships with sites like Twitpic, YouTube and others.

While the Twitter executives took pains to emphasize that the changes were not specifically made with advertising revenue in mind there are a ton of opportunities – and challenges – that these changes present for those running a marketing plan that includes Twitter. Plus, these changes are easily adaptable two or three steps down the road when they decide that they would like to utilize them for revenue purposes.

The fact that rich media is displayed directly on the site can really increase the spread of photos and videos by not requiring a full click-through, which interrupts the user experience, it also means publishers need to be careful to manage what they share on Twitter against what their overall program goals are.

If a program has been put in place that has a corporate blog, a YouTube channel and other outposts then it needs to be considered whether it’s in line with overall goals whether Twitter updates link directly to the YouTube videos, which now play right there, or continue linking to blog posts that contain those videos. Both can have their advantages but, again, it depends on whether the goals are message dissemination or actually driving traffic somewhere in the hopes of getting them to then take some other action.

A lot of analysis of this announcement has said that Twitter is becoming close to a full-fledged media company. I don’t think that’s quite accurate since they are not, yet, taking the role of gate-keeping what does or doesn’t get published or distributed. That’s what a media company does.

Instead what Twitter has done is more akin to becoming a paper supplier, an essential component (at least they used to be) in the production cycle of newspapers or magazines, especially in the potential now present for the marketers who are becoming their own media companies. The company – don’t call them a social network, apparently – has now expanded the tools available to those marketers, who now have to decide how best to use them.