This post was originally published on Huffington Post Tech on July 19, 2012. Two years later, Twitter has gone public, but I’m still waiting for most of these features.
After six years or so, Twitter hasn’t changed much.
The core user experience of Twitter was, and is, the following: Put cursor in box, type 140 characters or less, push send. It’s a brief way of expressing yourself.
Sure, there have been some innovations. But the really great stuff everyone commonly knows about was invented by users, not by the company:
- The origin of replies using the format @[username] came about through experimentation by users working for Yahoo in the UK during late 2006.
- Hashtags on Twitter were invented by Chris Messina in late 2007.
- URL shortening (which was necessary to stay within 140 character limits) actually predates Twitter by a few years, and got a huge boost because of it (think: TinyURL and Bit.ly).
It’s true that one can do more sophisticated things with Twitter, but for most users, this is what they use and see, whether they fill in the Twitter box on a desktop, a tablet, or a phone. You can even tweet via text messages.
This simplicity is a blessing and a curse. Typing @[username] might make sense to some people, but it’s kinda nerdy. The concept of hashtagging your comment about a TV show with metadata may or may not go completely mainstream. It works, but it’s kind of like using DOS. It was great when it came out, but the desktop platform evolved. Where’s the “Windows” evolution of my real-time information platform?
Twitter is in the process of defining themselves as a company. It seems to the outside world that they want to monetize themselves mainly through advertising, a choice that may run counter to providing the best features for users and incentives for a robust developer ecosystem. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Unlike Facebook, which seemingly launches a new feature or tweak every week or so, and Tumblr and Pinterest, which are extremely simple, visual, and user-friendly, Twitter’s changes over the years have not made me feel more powerful, reach more people, understand more information, and get more done. And I say this as a huge fan of Twitter who’s tweeted about 10 times a day consistently for the last four years or so.
I’d like some new features. They’re not even that complicated. But they are user-centric and along the lines of what a more “open” Twitter information ecosystem would look like.
As a long-time, frequent “customer” of Twitter, here are the five features I wish Twitter would give me:
1. Make 100% of my tweets, dating back to my first one regardless of when I started, easily available, searchable, and exportable in multiple formats. (This is too geeky.)
2. Give me a simple but powerful analytics tool so I can better understand things like day of week I tweet most, who retweets me the most, who my influential followers are, click through rates on my links, and so on. I would be happy to pay a monthly fee for this. (Seems like this is coming someday, but I have no idea when.)
3. Allow me to do anything I want with accounts I’m following or who follow me: mass unfollowing, sorting, exporting, and other things to understand my personal Twitter community. (It shouldn’t be this hard.)
4. Provide me with a consistent, fully functional user experience across all form factors and operating systems. It’s not uncommon for someone to use, say, a Windows 7 PC, an iPad, and a Blackberry in the same day. (The experience is currently inconsistent.)
5. I would like to see more speed and more visual options to help me look at real-time streams, follow multiple hashtags or people at once, set tweets in different layouts, and other things. (TweetGrid has been doing a lot of this for years, for free; I use it all the time.)
I have one final request.
It isn’t a feature, but in some ways it’s more important than anything I wrote above. As a regular, consistent Twitter user for years, I’d like a clear mission statement from the company, and technology that reflects it. According to their website, Twitter is:
a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting. Simply find the accounts you find most compelling and follow the conversations.
I think that’s great. Help me do it better, Twitter.