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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

The Twitter grabbag

November 16, 2016

When I signed up to Twitter over 10 years ago the site was remarkably simple and easy to use. Back then using Twitter on mobile meant crafting SMS messages using particular syntaxes like “follow username” or “d username message”. It was a fantastically simple experience with huge implications on how we all communicate.

Today, there is no such thing as a unified Twitter experience. And all of the experiences are far from simple. Twitter on the web, or Twitter.com, feels pretty much the same across many desktop platforms. The issue I have with the web experience is that it is a pretty terrible way to use Twitter. The algorithmic main feed, the UI being shoved full of useless information, the confusing conversation layouts, all of these make Twitter.com not very fun to use. And the web experience on mobile is such a departure from the web site that I’d be surprised if anyone at all could use it. I’ve tried. A lot. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

On the Mac there are several excellent Twitter clients to get the most of our Twitter. I remember when Twitterrific debuted. It was amazing to have a running feed to bring all of my online friends right into my office. Today, on iOS, the Twitter applications are second-to-none. I’ve used nearly all Twitter clients for each platform and iOS is, hands down, the best way to experience Twitter both via the official apps and the best client of them all; Tweetbot.

Tweetbot is so far and away the best way to use Twitter it isn’t even funny. If you like Twitter at all and use Tweetbot ¬†you know how much value it brings you. You’re able to keep up with what is going on, easily create and reply to tweets, and search for what people are saying about a given topic.

On Windows, which I’ve switched to using this weekend, the Twitter experience is so bad that I have no trouble figuring out why Twitter has a hard time growing. A few weeks ago I quipped that if anyone was forced to only use the official Twitter apps or web site that they’d likely not use Twitter at all. The same could definitely be said for people using Twitter on Windows 10.

When I’m in a group of people and I’m the only person that really uses Twitter – uses it every single day – I always used to wonder why. Why aren’t these people on Twitter? Why aren’t they getting as much value from it as I have? I don’t wonder that any longer. The experience is terrible. For anyone using Windows 10 or Android I’d bet they open Twitter from time-to-time (if they have an account at all) and then close it wondering why people use it at all.

Take this scenario as a for instance. Someone signs up to Twitter, they follow a few accounts like a celebrity or two, their favorite sports teams, a journalist or two, a politician or three, and maybe one or two friends that are using Twitter. All told they are at around 40 accounts. And I’d say this is likely the median for Twitter. They log into Twitter. The algorithm shows them 4 tweets they “missed while away”. And the rest of their main feed is a hodge podge of some recent tweets. They scroll down once or twice but not much else is interesting and they move on with their day.

If this was how I used Twitter then I could never get any value from it.

Contrast that with the Tweetbot experience. I open Tweetbot and I’m presented with my main feed from the point I left off from. I have 56 tweets that I missed since the last time I opened the app. And, just like my email, I quickly glance at each one – sometimes stopping to follow a link or look at a photo – before moving on. I won’t be “done” looking at Twitter until I’ve gotten through all of the tweets. Like being done with looking at my email. For some people this may seem overwhelming. They may ask “how can I keep up?” They hate having emails in their Inbox and so they hate having Unread Tweets. But for many this would produce a valuable use of Twitter. The more tweets people see the more chance they have of seeing something that interests them. Of course that is the purpose of Twitter’s main feed algorithm, but more is more in this context. Ask any user of Tweetbot and they will tell you that they get value from being on Twitter. Ask any user of the Twitter web site and I’d bet they only see 20% of the content shared on the site and could live without the service.

To make matters worse, using Twitter on different platforms results in having different features. On some platforms there are Moments. And Lists. On others, they simply aren’t there. Or they are so buried you would never use them. Some have video. Some do not. Some have GIFs. Some do not. And many of the experiences do not support Polls. And so you see tweets that seem out-of-place. On some clients there are keyboard shortcuts. On Windows 10, in the official app, there are none. This is baffling. These little inconsistencies means that different sets of users have wholly different experiences in using the platform. How in the world could Twitter craft that experience to make Twitter valuable to everyone that uses it when they have no idea what features are popular across all platforms? It is a mess. Honestly, I can’t think of a single service that is as popular as Twitter and is as much a mess. Pinterest, Facebook, Skype, Snapchat. All of these are fairly consistent across all platforms.

I still believe Twitter is on the ropes. I’m sad but I believe they have very little chance of survival unless something big happens. And my switching to Windows and realizing that I’d rather not use Twitter on Windows 10 (and, the recent exodus caused by the political fallout) really makes me think that Twitter’s end is closer than ever before.