Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Twitter - We should talk.

Hi Twitter.

Please, come in and sit down. I think it's time we had a little chat.

I know things haven't been great lately, and I think you're coming undone at the seams a bit.

I'd like to lay a few things out for discussion.


Your position.


You are in a unique position of being a vital, real-time connection between content producers and interested parties, who may also be content producers. You enjoy a position which is (blessedly) outside Facebook and is not a walled garden. You have made amazing technical advances to be able to support this amazing real-time platform. You are, in general, viewed as a force for good. You have friends.

I have witnessed more news, events, conversations and opinions on Twitter than almost any other medium I've used in the past twenty years that I've been on the Internet. It's addictive to be part of this huge, global conversation and I love that.

Recent activity.

But you keep doing these things.

Layoffs.

Maybe these were justified because you had over-hired, but it looked reactionary which, if I was one of your investors, would make me quite nervous and/or irritated. Stop jerking your knees. Be more solid.

Moments.

Experimental. I think it's good to separate curated items like this, which leaves timelines alone. More on that later. Definitely interesting as a thing for surrounding current affairs and getting people interested in them. The "You're caught up" is very Circa-like (RIP Circa). The Trending items have been kind of filling that purpose already, though, but the presentation in Moments is very clean, so I hope that this can build on that kind of attention into something cool. But I'm really not sure that this is the new user grabber that you think it is.

Please don't retire trending or hashtags though. That would be uncool.

Polling.

The polling functionality is a really powerful thing. You can do a lot of good in this area. Keep up with the good work on this. Be a part of online democracy and live reaction. We like.

Periscope.

Still niche, but an excellent reporting tool. It would be nice to see better integration of that in things like the TweetDeck Chrome extension. Real problems here are bandwidth, video quality, people's data plans, vertical aspect video.

Vine.

I know Instagram do 15 seconds, but 6 seconds is still cool, right? The integration of this service makes sense because it lends itself to the concise nature of a Tweet. However, the only people I have really seen (in the UK) using Vine are comedians. Think about that for one of those 6 seconds.

Apparent lack of action regarding the tackling of online abuse.

You really, REALLY need to sort this shit out. Provide tools, streamline reporting processes, support victims, unleash rogue AI... Literally anything apart from sitting on your hands about bullying and threatening behaviour.

Favourites vs likes.

Stars vs hearts. Connotations and implications. Organisation vs emotion. I could go on. In fact ...

The whole point of Web 2.0 was the ability to customise your web experience. What happened? How can it not be clear that this change makes it means something totally different? It smacks of flag-waving. You must stop doing these kinds of changes. People (read: your user base) get very used to these semantics and symbols, and you'd be amazed what could drive a person away if they felt aggrieved enough about it. As it is, it's now fairly evident that the people who make these kinds of decisions don't appear to use Twitter or "get it" - the blog post from Akarshan Kumar made it clear that you are going for lowest common denominator, and that's extremely patronising.

The best possible thing you can do here is to bring back the Star icon, and call the collection of things "Starred", because that is completely agnostic to emotional connections. Then this feature can go back to its meaning being implied from context (which includes timing) and also have zero connotations when used as an organisational method. Please do this because what you've done makes no sense to me and many others.

Noise.

Most of Twitter is noisy. If I step outside of the accounts I follow then I find myself in a horrific sea of chatter. I'm actually cool with that. It supports the notion of 'tuning-in' to certain voices; apart from the Etsy bots - I'm f-ing sick of those. You should be able to spot them and many other types of spammer by now - so why aren't they automatically banned?

Concentration on in-house clients.

At the cost of pissing off every other development team who ever tried to make a 3rd party add on or client for Twitter. It's like you really don't want an ecosystem at all. You are a PLATFORM, a SERVICE, let people MAKE THINGS THAT USE YOUR PLATFORM. If this is about the whole advertising thing - i.e. that you can't control placement of adverts in 3rd party clients, then you're doing things backwards. FIND ANOTHER MODEL (see below). It's not like you're showing adverts in TweetDeck's chrome extension yet anyway (and please don't start now - I'll cry).

Perverse notion of messing with the chronology of timelines.

Twitter's utility is that it shows a chronological view of content. I have absolutely no idea why you think that modifying this is in any way a good thing to do. Even the the out-of-order replies reaction (the "blue line" fiasco) was a UX-disaster with people (like me) complaining about the cognitive dissonance it provoked and being the final nail in the coffin for staying the hell away from the web client. The considered plans for "Tweets-you-may-have-missed" is just barmy. If there are things that you think I've missed - PUT THEM INTO A SEPARATE LIST. Seriously, if you cock up the chronology of Tweets in a timeline then you might as well be a randomly ordered collection of things people have said at some point in the past X hours like Facebook. Just stop that line of thinking.

Consideration of Tweets longer than 140 characters.

No, no, no, no, NO. Twitter is concise. Keep it that way. How am I supposed to catch up on 500+ Tweets that happened overnight if they are a bunch of essays? That's what I have RSS for! If someone wants to post more than 140 characters then they should host content elsewhere which has meta-data on it that allows the previews in clients - just like they do now. CREATE AN ECOSYSTEM, NOT A WALLED GARDEN.

Also - please support RSS. RSS is your friend.

The web client.

I mean, seriously. I'm really glad that we got the Bootstrap project out of Twitter (I use it every day at work), but my God you guys really need to completely re-think your UX. Jesus F-ing Christ, what a mess. If I was approaching that project I would absolutely throw the entire template away and hope that no-one ever mentioned it at parties I went to.

Stock price.

By doubling down on bad ideas to please investors, all it goes to show is that you have collected the wrong investors, with the wrong promises whispered into the wrong ears.

The knock-on effects of promising swathes of new users is removing focus from what makes your platform great.

New users are only valuable if you can present advertising to them. And you've seen the current ad-block fuss.

What you need are customers.

Recommended actions.


Subscription model.


I would absolutely pay $5-10 dollars a month for a subscription to Twitter. That subscription would be ad-free, with a reasonable expectation of timely support for problems with my account, payment, online abuse, and the knowledge that my 3rd party Twitter client could be used without limitation.

I can envisage you running a subscription programme in parallel with your current operations, the only difference being the ad-free nature of the channel, a better SLA for support and the unlocked API access.

The more I think about it, (and I've been thinking about this for a few years), the more strongly I believe that this would be hugely successful for you.

But how much would subscription actually cost you? What change would that have on revenue when a (hopefully significant) percentage of your users are throwing you money each month? What would be the effect upon new user take-up, if they joined knowing that they could upgrade their experience? What would be the effect on API use if it was suddenly opened up to paying users?

I can't help but feel that these changes would be positive.

Content producer payment.

Given that many people join up to be able to follow people with something to say, celebrities, authors, musicians, news outlets, etc, then perhaps that should be rewarded somehow.

There are a few different services which allow users to make payment via Twitter. By taking that in-house this could be like your own version of Patreon, (minus the data leakage), offering content producers payback for being popular.

Again, this is about creating an ecosystem. Reward people for taking part.

Signing off.

Twitter, I don't know if you'll read this. I hope you do and I hope that some of it gets through to you. You are a vital, current thing, and it is in everyone's interest (apart from Facebook's) that you stop these self-harming actions and become something better.

Good day to you, whomever you are.

@fractos.