Twitter Image Preview Help Guide

Recently Twitter ‘upgraded’ the experience so that images are automatically previewed in the timeline. This means that, when you are viewing your tweets via the Twitter website or via the official apps; pictures are not just links; you get a teasing preview.

In the picture below you can see some tweets from the official app on my iPhone (featuring the awesome Aimee Bateman):

Example of image preview on Twitter IOS app

Fig1: Example of image preview on Twitter IOS app

…and here is a tweet from Tom Lloyd as viewed in my tweet stream on Twitter web:

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 17.19.53

Fig2: Example of image previews as experienced on Twitter website

I’m not going to get into the rights and wrongs of Twitter automatically forcing us to see images but it’s pretty obvious that this can be a powerful tool and, in the right hands, it can make tweets all the more enticing & clickable. However, there is some magic going on here that we need to be aware of…

What are the preview rules?

If you click on the image preview, you get to see the whole image. This is because the image preview is a bit of a weird size (438 wide x 219 tall with rounded corners). Now, typically, an uploaded image is bigger than that so why did Twitter choose this size? I’m guessing that they settled on this as the optimum size after lots of testing; it’s a balance between users seeing too little (and running the risk of preview being more like the mystery picture round from Ask the Family) and showing too much so that it destroys the flow of the tweet stream and ends up looking more like…errrr…Facebook?

For example, in FIG1, the actual image which Amy uploaded was this:

Fig 3: Aimee's original image

Fig 3: Aimee’s original image

…notice how the image preview cropped to the top element of Aimee’s image?

Which also looks like what happened to Tom’s image in Fig2. Below (Fig 4) is the original image which Tom uploaded, notice the bit missing from the bottom in the preview?

Fig 4: Tom's original image

Fig 4: Tom’s original image

Now at this point you may be think:

For chrissakes Joel, you are a bloody idiot! The rule which Twitter is employing here is simple! They just always take the top bit of the image!

To which I say: are you sure?

Take a look at this tweet:

Fig 5: Lily

Fig 5: Lily

If you look at the original tweet for Fig 5 (and note that the preview isn’t in force if you just view the original tweet; it only affects when viewing the tweet stream), you’ll see that my daughter is actually towards the bottom of the photo. So Twitter has definitely not taken the preview from the top zone (as before); and this is not the middle band of the picture either!

I think we’ve got some face detection going on here; Twitter is trying to intelligently preview.

Take a look at Fig 6:

Fig 6: Lily again

Fig 6: Lily again

Here again is my little girl towards the bottom of the photo but this time she is pretty much cropped out. Why? Because I think the face detection routine just didn’t pick her up; which is fair enough, her head is small, she’s wearing a hat etc. Therefore, it has then defaulted to previewing the middle portion of the image (which I suppose is a safe bet). And I think, with Tom & Aimee’s images, the system saw the faces and focussed on the top.

What are the take-aways?

If you are going to the trouble of uploading an image to Twitter then please bear in mind how it may appear in the preview as, otherwise, you are not playing to the strengths of the platform; a better image preview will mean more clicks.

  1. If you want total control; create your image to be 438 x 219. The preview is then just the image.
  2. Failing that I would try and take your photo in landscape mode with your subject in the middle area of the photo.
  3. If your photo is in portrait mode, try and make sure that the face is strong with good contrast; make life easier for the face recognition routine. If there is no face (or a potentially confusing image); then be prepared for Twitter to take the middle band of the photo.

Some more examples:

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 17.42.18

Make your image 438 x 219 if you want total control

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 17.43.52

If you it’s portrait mode, try to ensure there is a strong clear face otherwise your preview might not be useful

Hope that helps.


p.s. some final notes:

  1. Preview does not  apply if you search for tweets etc; it is only when you are viewing your own tweet stream.
  2. You can turn off the image preview by delving into your settings; however, I don’t think many users could be bothered to do this.
  3. This preview only affects images uploaded direct to Twitter.

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