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Fixing Twitter (dcurt.is)
308 points by rkudeshi 895 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 133 comments

> Right now, a reply to Justin Bieber by a 16-year-old fangirl goes into the ether, never to be seen again. There is zero incentive in the product to interact with celebrities on Twitter, because no one will see the responses.

This seems like speculation. Empirically, do a search for "@justinbieber" (click on "live") or look at any of his tweets, and you'll see innumerable 16-year-old fangirls who have found some incentive to tweet at him. There's also the subphenomenon of these 16-year-old fangirls getting incredibly excited when those tweets do get seen and interacted with, which indicates, one, that they don't go into the ether, and two, people have a genuine hope of interaction.

I've seen this in practice, because I do actually follow certain parts of popular culture and music and trashy television (not Bieber, as it happens, but enough others) and occasionally look at what they're up to on Twitter. It happens without fail for every celebrity.

So I wonder if the author is actually reporting on how actual people actually use Twitter, or extrapolating from the eyes of a non-16-year-old non-fangirl who cares about things like reply threading.

I've seen the same thing; it also seems like it's not so much an issue of the platform as celebrities understandably don't have the time or inclination to interact with strangers on a regular basis.

Just wait till Kanye West or Taylor Swift come out with a smart reply-bot based on their online presence and it's gonna be all the rage.

The smarter play may be genuine Kanye doing 100 tweets at a time to 85 people who are identified as Kanye's Most Lucrative Fans In The Town He Is Currently In and 15 folks randomly selected (whose inclusion is for social purposes).

I'm peripherally aware of someone who is one or two orders of magnitude smaller than Kayne presently doing this. I believe the vernacular is "killing it."

(Think of the economics for a touring band which can sell out a 100 seat theatre. The approximate lifestyle is "They plow 80% of their meagre revenues into the costs of producing music, make McDonalds wages, and live in a van." Now, give that band the ability to tweet for two hours, glad hand some fans, and make $10k with no venue cut and no label cut. The specific example I heard was "DM fan123: Hey Dave. Enjoyed seeing you at the last 5 concerts. Got a VIP event coming up Thursday: 12 people, live in studio with us, light drinks to follow. Thought you'd want to know. Tix & details: linkylink. Hope to see you there.")

P.S. Before anyone on says "Wait, Patrick, the economics do not make 2 hours of Kayne's time affordable on the budget of upper middle class Americans unless he is sharded between so many people to not even have the pretense of interacting with all of them" think less "movie tickets" as a comparable and more "season tickets to an NFL team" or "a set of golf clubs" or "a cruise around Europe" or any of the host of big-ticket items which upper middle class Americans actually do purchase frequently when given the chance.

Yes, I'm sure twitter could highlight the followers with the most followed and then Kanye could reply to them. He could also get a highlight of those most engaged in twitter (though they might not have a lot of followers) and tweet to them as well.

And, while it's at it, twitter could provide some kind of AI analysis of his followers to find the ones who are the most positive and have said the most positive things about Kanye.

Hell, they could even advertise they're doing that. Imagine being a rabid fan and learning that if you say lots of nice things about Kanye all over twitter that it'll bring you to his attention and he'll start personally replying to your tweets! Oh the algorithmic cult of personality...

We were verified on Twitter last week, and one of the useful additions is a verified notifications tab, which similarly, allows us to quickly see 'important' accounts interacting with us amongst all the 'noise'.

I think your suggestions are great, but I don't see why Twitter should do it -- what they should do is open up the game for developers, so Kanyer's software development/PR team can work a specific system to do that. Or a company do a generic platform and sell the service to celebrities.

I don't know, as much as the growing money from events being made by musicians is great for music as a whole, I wish we could put money's incentivizing focus back on album production, like the recording companies' golden days. What if, taking this supporter/fan model (which is also more generally available in something like Patreon), we sell tiers for fans to peek into the production of the album at different stages. Like you subscribe with X, you follow all our updates Y, with 2X, all our updates Y and Z, so on and so forth. Using a social network frontend (not unlike twitter or soundcloud) and backend software connecting to something like Ableton Live, musicians could literally share/stream their workflow and assets for people to toy around at home (only for upper echelons of patrons, of course). Those kind of insider views/treats could also inspire and even serve as learning tools for fans to learn into how their idols work. Maybe more niche, then maybe again with all the people getting into computer musicianship and electronic music being as big as ever, not so niche.

That's what I want to see, and I'm willing to code it, just not now.

P.S. I like how my grand parent comment had -1 score before you replied but is now recovering well.

P.S. I like how my grand parent comment had -1 score before you replied but is now recovering well.

FWIW, it's easy to read that as a reddit-esque throwaway oneliner, which HN doesn't really encourage, rather than serious commentary about social media optimization for a musician. When I have a comment like that, and I do occasionally, I generally thicken it out a bit to signal "No, wait, actual thought happened." (An example: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10177005 was originally just the first two sentences, which taken alone read like middlebrow dismissal, so I added a bit of supporting detail.)

>> something like Ableton Live, musicians could literally share/stream their workflow and assets for people to toy around at home

Ableton have built this: https://blend.io/

Note the remixes competitions listed further down the page. AFAIK it doesn't have much traction, although I think their execution was very good.

There have been quite a few online collaboration products built into sequencers. Rocket Network back in 2000: http://www.1000tracks.ru/remembering-rocket-network/

I've seen some people post on facebook about someone mildly famous favoriting their tweet, so i agree with you.

It's a form of lottery. Rewarding one in a million. Keeps the machine churning.

There might be no fixing Twitter. The reason Twitter grew imho is because of the rich ecosystem of developers they had. Those developers, time and time again, found new ways to use Twitter and did the development, marketing, and educating of the public. The result was rich engagement and growth.

Everyone had a different reason for using Twitter because there were so many apps. Now, those apps are gone. How do you go and tell the developer community to come back? How do you trust Twitter? The answer is you don't.

Indeed. The trust has been lost. Trust is a really simple issue that many people in our industry like the article's author simply don't get. To expect Twitter to recover in this area is absolutely ridiculous. Yes, there are plenty of young, stupid developers, but given Twitter's animosity towards developers in the past, even with a dedicated campaign, I doubt they could get any significant ones to work with the platform again. From a business' point of view, it's suicide, from a developer's point of view, it's a waste of time and effort, and from an investor's point of view, it's a risk not worth taking.

I can believe that the growth was significantly helped by third-party clients, but I wouldn't believe that the more creative twitter integrations had a major effect. That would be a dev/techy-centric view of the world, similar to those that truly believe that the real-name policy was a mainstream issue that killed G+.

When I started on twitter, it had no hashtags, replies were public (because they weren't initially part of the protocol), no t.co, no embedded photo sharing, no geotagging. All of these features were added, and made popular, in third party clients before being added to Twitter. It was like a giant lab where the features could be tried by smaller groups who shared certain clients or norms and the popular ones wrapped into the "official" API eventually.

"Nothing great is Built On Twitter"

That quote sums it all up.

Most of Dustin's suggested extensions are things other people should have built on Twitter. Of course, it also keys into Dalton's App.Net plan where Twitter should have been the stream and people should have used a countless applications to make the stream more discernible and allow Twitter focus on ensuring the backbone stays in place.

Funny enough, that is how twitter originated. Others built their clients and they focused on the core. They lost that direction and wanted to "own it all" like Facebook. But they took that direction rather too early.

Take Tweetstorming as an example which is a niche need. My team built a tweetstorming app http://writerack.com. It pulls and pushes all it's content from and to Twitter. In an ideal case, Twitter should support it and similar ones rather than making Twitter.com more convoluted with the aim of doing everything themselves.

If Twitter had supported third patrty developers, someone/people would have built a killer app for using twitter to follow and interact live events. That would have brought another set of people into the platform and that extends to other use cases too.

Hopefully, Twitter gets it right because I have come to really find Twitter useful.

I think there are two pretty good reasons that Twitter moved away from being an open platform, and they are: 1) ensuring a good user experience, and 2) making money.

The tweetstorming thing, for example, conveniences particular writers at the expense of all the other writers (and quite a number of readers). I hate it, and will unfollow anybody who does it regularly. It's the tragedy of the commons for an attention economy. Twitter's demand that people be concise is a large part of its value to readers. The more they control the UI, the easier it is to nudge people in particular directions that shape good user experiences.

But that's a small thing next to making money. To experiment with various ad products, they need extremely fine grained control of and reporting on user experience, and they need to be able to rapidly change that as they come up with new ideas. That's hard enough even when they control everything; getting a zillion developers to do that is impossible.

Focusing on the core was great, but nobody was paying them for the core. They're spending ~$1.5 billion/year. Anybody who says, "Twitter should do X" without explaining how their plan will help pay the bills is not going to get a lot of consideration at Twitter HQ.

Re: I get where you are coming from. However, people use services differently. Twitter has failed in determining how services should be used.

Re: Annoying Tweetstorming.

People should be able to mute content from certain apps. Just like you can silence your Candy Crushers.

Re: Making Money.

On a sarcastic note, "I'll think of a way if I am paid 6 figures a year" :). But seriously, we are making content more valuable by adding more people to its service. Twitter can retain the rights to serve ads on those third party services while sharing some of the ad revenue.

> Twitter has turned into a place where famous people and news organizations broadcast text. That’s it.

It has? I don't follow any news organizations or famous people. Well, a couple of Hugo-winning authors. But than's not like Beiber famous. And my timeline is a vibrant place full of friends talking with each other. It's like an IRC channel where I get to decide who's there. And it works great for that.

> Second–and this one is obvious to almost everyone–Twitter needs to focus on realtime events. When I open Twitter during a major debate in the US, or when a bomb has exploded in Bangkok, there should be a huge fucking banner at the top that says “follow this breaking event.”

Whenever there is a major thing going on my timeline will tell me about it. Because my friends will be retweeting stuff, or tweeting news articles they saw about whatever the thing is elsewhere. I know when there are conventions going on. I know when riots are happening. I know when there is a videogame speedrun charity marathon happening. Well, I used to until I decided to preemptively block the hashtags for those. I know when my friends are musing about their gardens, or their resumes, or their angst about their core skills. I even know when some of my friends are feeling frisky if they've trusted me with access to their private accounts where they occasionally post half-naked selfies. And in the middle of that I get all these weird blips of surreality from various art project bots I follow. I don't need a "huge fucking banner" telling me to follow a breaking event, because my friends will be talking about it.

When I have a problem with some software or some corporation, if I use their @name while bitching about the problem there is a pretty decent they will reply and help fix it.

Yeah, every kid who tweets at Beiber isn't going to get a reply. Duh? Would they expect a reply on other social media? Does Beiber even run his own account? There's a lot of celebrities with mostly-dormant accounts run by their social media specialists, and they're boring as fuck because they're not really there. But a lot of people who are famous, but not Mega Corporate Media Distribution Famous, actually do run their own twitters.

Who the hell is Dustin following here? Does he actually have any friends who use Twitter as his primary mode of communication? Are all his friends on Facebook or G+ or something else instead? Because it sure sounds like he's not using Twitter anywhere near the way I use it.

Thank you a bunch for saying this, I feel the same way. I cultivate a list of accounts I follow strictly because their posts tend to be relevant or interesting.

If you have a stream of garbage on Twitter, don't follow people who post garbage.

I follow people primarily in tech and programming. Most of them use Twitter to talk about things they work on, issues they have, things that are interesting. Occasionally they share something funny, but I rarely see something distasteful or annoying. Sometimes I follow somebody and after a few days I feel like I'm not getting any benefit from what they are posting--it will be annoying or I will realize that they are trying to reach an audience with a different set of values--and I unfollow them. That's OK, they are not meeting my expectations.

The argument for Twitter being broken because signal/noise ratio is like saying email is broken because your inbox is full of newsletters for sites you don't like. The problem isn't with email, it is with how you are using it. Unsubscribe, clean it out, make a new address...

But that's the exact problem for many average users. They were shunted into a default track of follwing 10s of "garbage" posters. My mom's Gmail inbox is exactly this problem - she has dozens of daily useless newsletters she was default opted into and can't be bothered to unsubscribe (or doesn't find it easy), so they just pile up and make email pretty useless. So yes, it's their fault, but the product needs to correct for this behavior.

> If you have a stream of garbage on Twitter, don't follow people who post garbage.

That's Twitter's problem, not the user's problem. Your comment is akin to the old open source saying, "It's open source, go fix the bug yourself."

> Whenever there is a major thing going on my timeline will tell me about it. Because my friends will be retweeting stuff, or tweeting news articles they saw about whatever the thing is elsewhere.

That's very true, and I'm surprised I didn't remember that while reading this article. There are news stories that I've seen first on Twitter, and had trouble finding an actual news article.

Of course, it's not going to cover every last "major debate in the US" or "bomb has exploded in Bangkok" mention. It'll only cover it if people I follow think it's interesting enough to tweet about. If I wanted CNN, I'd have a cable subscription.

I think the point was that even in your example you have to have friends who will retweet those events for you to see them, there is no banner up top saying "breaking news: thousands gain eternal life in alien invasion" and that is a link to click where everything outside of your normal stream is collected and displayed in a frontpage news kind of way.

I don't personally know one single person I follow on Twitter, I use it mostly for following muscisians and dancers in a weeaboo reality thatonly exists for me inside my head and on social media/YT. I'm never going to see any real news, but it's a service Twitter should be designing and pushing, it would be better than the other guff they inject into my timeline.

Yeah, this was how I found out about the weird "blue dress" thing.

I strongly suspect you are in a small minority there. Most people do not have network of friends actively posting interesting content on Twitter. To overcome critical mass/network effect issues Twitter needs to make the experience enjoyable for rest of us.

Most people do all those things on Facebook.

> It's like an IRC channel where I get to decide who's there.

Except no one is discussing anything and topics change every other tweet.

I follow ~20 people and even that I cannot keep up with. But then again maybe I simply don't use Twitter enough to know how to use it well.

Don't try to "keep up". Its fine if stuff gets lost. You need to follow more than that for it to be interesting I think.

My problem with twitter is that it feels like a desert land more and more. I get more and more bot 'followers' and more ads in my timeline. The signal / noise ratio has decreased incredibly and continuous decreasing, unfortunately.


Why do you care about keeping an authentic follower list? I'm honestly curious because I've never really understood this phenomenon.

For those who care about their image, authenticity is an important social media currency. See, e.g.: https://www.twitteraudit.com/

For some, it's about the same reason one would report spam: a dislike of abuse.

I feel both of those a little, but for me it's mostly about having a real connection with my audience. I definitely pay attention to who's following me, who favorites my stuff, et cetera. When I write on some social medium, I write for my audience. Writing for a bunch of spambots, marketroids, and scammers is... offputting.

Hm, why does that site need my authorisation to read MY profile when I can use it also to audit other people's accounts? A scam to get auth?

Twitter requires auth for every API call, even reading public information. They would burn out their own API quota pretty fast if they didn't have each user grant them a read-only token.

Ah, that makes sense. Thanks!

My main reason is that I don't want to write to an audience of bots. I'm using twitter semi-anonymously so none of my real life friends follow me there (I don't have a separate account for this), so people who follow me and I follow are the people I'd talked to before on twitter. If I'm followed by more bots than actual people, I feel like the social feeling of twitter would fade away. I have a small number of followers (around 70) and keeping my followers as authentic as possible gives me the feeling that people care about what I write. (They probably don't but blocking bots gives me the illusion that they do, because my follow count rarely changes.)

Additionally, I'm obsessively organised and spend a lot of time thinking about the tiniest of details and this may be a product of that tiring (and somewhat problematic) personality trait. This is the same reason why I delete my tweets the day after I tweeted them.

I have a very similar attitude towards bot accounts. Early on, they were instantly recognizable and took no time to identify and block. Now that I'm doing it for a while, I feel obliged to continue and I've discovered that some bot accounts look semi-legit at first (Twitter's 'uncanny valley') but that dragging their profile image into Google's reverse image search would give them away. Same image, loads of different accounts all almost normal but when viewed as a group they were obvious fakes. Curating your Twitter followers list is just a matter of personal preference, nothing more.

And I'm definitely a 'tweet deleter' after reading this article[0] and agreeing with the premise that Twitter messages aren't that important to preserve. I'd rather deny data miners the ability to better profile me than keep old messages. The article's linked-to Ruby script to archive & delete messages stopped working recently but I found a newer one[1] which works very well. Set it up as a cron job, set the preferred threshold for RTs, favorites and time, and it keeps your feed tidy. If that old message was so great your followers will mark it as such and the script will preserve it. The rest disappear after X days.



That's my reasoning behind deleting tweets as well. They just aren't worth preserving. I only tweet about the things I'm passionate about, which are human rights, privacy and politics so I can and do tweet impulsively to vent from time to time. I almost always regret those tweets and I don't want them be on my timeline permanently.

Data mining is a concern, though not a big one because I'm pretty sure twitter keeps my deleted tweets anyway. If I don't want to say something I don't want to be found on the internet, I just don't say it.

I don't tweet a lot, so I've been deleting them manually. Which isn't a big hassle for me. I wanted to use scripts to automate the process but they all require API tokens and twitter doesn't let you have them without giving them your phone number, so I decided not to use them. I try to keep my account as anonymous as possible. If I had been tweeting a lot more, I would've definitely used them but currently they're not for me. Thanks for sharing it though. I'll bookmark it just in case I need it in the future.

I'm fortunate to still have an API token from before they required that :-) Can't make any new ones though. But for the occasional script it can be useful :-)

As someone who has managed accounts for business, keeping an authentic follower list to me is about providing a valuable, ethical service to clients. It would be easy for a client to hire me to increase their followers and for me to do so with the thousands of fake accounts. Instead I choose to provide a true follower increase, meaning people that actually value their product. In most cases business owners and managers are appreciative to this approach. It is better to have 50 followers who engage with your product/service, than to have 1000 followers who do not.

Somewhat related, but my follower count stays about the same on average. I go through spurts where I post a lot and then don't post at all. I don't use Twitter that often for direct engagement with individuals, but do from time to time. About a month ago I woke up one day with over a thousand new followers. I thought for a second I had tweeted out something great the night before and was curious what it was that drew so many new eyes. A quick glance at my followers though revealed that ever last one of the new followers was a spam account. To me this devalues the entire ecosystem at Twitter. Twitter has this hard limit on following 2000 people until you reach some undisclosed threshold of followers (presumably close to 2000 followers). I believe that many of the spam accounts are created solely for the purpose of following people to bypass that arbitrary limit. To me though, Twitter has it completely wrong here. It would seem they are encouraging spam accounts by having this limit in place in the first place. There are better ways to detect spam accounts than saying if a user is following >2000 people yet doesn't have 2000 followers they must be spam. Twitter can tell if a user interacts with the systems and tweets on a fairly regular basis. This to me is a better determination of whether an account is spam than simply the number of followers an account has.

> Facebook

Facebook has a different problem - sold or hacked accounts.

There was an artist I "liked", let's call him Bob. Bob made maybe a post a week, and it was always worth seeing. Bob also had a lot of followers.

A few weeks ago, Bob's account was suddenly renamed to "BobMemes". It then became a spambot spewing clickbait several times an hour, often not SFW.

I don't know if the account was sold or hacked, but this isn't the way Bob behaves, and several weeks on there's been no change (as I'd expect if there was a hack).

So it's not just about followers, it's about choosing who you "like".

That's a pretty unusual incident. What he's referring to happens all the time.

Another thing on the "desert island" effect is that, from the perspective of a artistist or creator, it seems oddly difficult to get discovered on Twitter. Maybe it's something about the interface or recommendation system?

Twitter itself does not encourage creators who want to share content that much. I don't know if this is a problem with media integration (as mentioned in the article) or with the types of people who use Twitter, but as a creator of anything artistic it's not that nice of a platform. I've found tumblr to be much better, both in terms of community (lots of artists, game developers, musicians, etc hang out there) and in how the system itself works. People are much more liberal with notes and reblogs, which means it's easier to gain a following and it's also easier to get some data on how much something you created resonates with people.

I have a very high signal/noise ratio but that's because I did the work to follow interesting people. But its also true that the noise is encroaching and we as users have to do work to find more signal.

So one of the core problems of twitter is that you are required to do that; it's work. That's fixable.

Certainly the front page for a new visitor should be rich with content.

You can improve the signal/noise ratio by using lists to follow groups of people with common interests. This is even more work, but in some cases, you can follow other people's lists instead.

You can get an even better signal/noise ratio by using Nuzzel, which extracts the most popular stories. Again, you can use it to read other people's lists.


The signal/noise ratio bothers me too... exacerbated by promoted tweets, unconvincingly implemented 'while you were away' boxes, and similar, diluting the signal even further.

I'm still stupidly holding out hope that one day Twitter will offer to take money to get rid of that stuff.

It is incredibly easy to set up a bot in twitter. (Slightly hard since the API v1.1, but still easy.) If an account is attached to a bot, there should be a small icon in all it's tweet to indicate that.

How would you enforce that? Genuine question. Is there a reliable-enough-to-be-useful way to distinguish between types of API client?

I think it's time to rethink the 140 charcter limit.

When people want to post more than 140 characters, they include it as an image (so not searchable), which is considerably more effort.

Why not allow longer tweets, and only show the first 140 chars by default (along with an indication of how long it's going to be), and then load or show the rest on demand?

Because I mostly don't want longer text from people. Twitter forces people to be concise. One of my favorite things about Twitter is the large number of voices I can follow. More text per person means less voices.

That said, I think they could do it successfully if text were treated as another media attachment like photos or videos or links. People would still have to write a concise ~120 character intro; if I wanted more I could click to expand. But making main posts longer would be a great disappointment to me, possibly enough to kill my use of the platform.

It's impossible to have meaningful conversations with that kind of limit. You end up having to use "1/N" over and over again. That limit has always left me wondering how Twitter even got started...

It actually got set like this because tweets were originally sent and received via SMS, which has a 160 char limit. The additional 20 characters were reserved for twitter metadata.

most incredible news you've had in your life can be shared in 140 characters.

most of the worst, most useless content you've ever written to anyone would be several paragraphs.

that's why it worked.

What you're saying is inherently incorrect. "Usefulness" of content is always going to be more limited by 140 characters than it would otherwise be.

It worked, not because people want to "share" less, but because they want to read less. Same reason a lot of people browsing Reddit for example only browse it by glimpsing the headlines. The more news there is, the less people are interested in the details of the news - they want to let their brains fill in the details.

Say, for example (and please don't read too much into the example), you read an article that says "Police shoots an innocent civilian". Then a few days later, you read another article very similar to it. Then another. At some point you stop reading the article and you just glimpse the headline - filling in the details yourself, even if they are wrong. You do this for every article you come across, and you enter a cycle where everything you read ends up fitting your own learned narrative. Your brain autocompletes the content of every article... and if there is no match, you can just ignore it.

This sort of behaviour is something you see a lot of on Reddit. People are attracted to short snippets of information they can autocomplete. Most don't want to spend a lot of time on something they might be reading on the toilet, or on the subway. It's the same reason mobile toilet games are racking in millions, while the PC gaming market is taking a major hit.

On this is about discussion. News is a different thing.

The 140 limit is a feature, not a bug. The character limit places the burden on the sender to compress their message, instead of forcing the receiver to read more. Shorter messages = faster reading = faster replying = a more active network.

If you're interested in a service exactly like Twitter but without the limit, take a look at GNU Social - https://gnusocial.no. Granted, it's mostly developers on there, but Twitter was similar when it started.

Thanks for sharing that. I was vaguely aware of GNU Social, but didn't even realize there was a public GNU Social network available. I just signed up!

Twitter without the 140 character limit is Google+.

No it's not, it's twitter with more characters. You need to keep the context in mind here.

Before Google+ I always regarded Twitter as Facebook Status with limits. At least on FB you can share images and videos somewhat properly.

Interesting that no-one has mentioned weibo, the chinese "copy" of twitter (hint: it's not actually a copy). I think weibo is a fantastic product that's ahead of twitter in many respects.

Just off the top of my head, weibo has:

- the "event" grouping that dcurtis mentions and a better topic grouping system ("micro topics")

- rich multimedia as a first class citizen (photo galleries especially are very popular)

- payments built-in - you can donate to or pay anyone on the platform. This is especially used in time of disaster. Weibo escrows the money for a bit to make sure the recipient is legitimate, btw

- properly threaded conversations, easy to follow

- a much more fleshed-out verified account system and the dev integration to connect companies to the system

I'm aware that what works in china may not work for twitter, but looking at what they're doing seems like a pretty good starting point.

As I've written in past comments (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10094396), and as this post suggests, rebuilding developer relations and improving integrations would go a long way. There's a lot of potential locked in the platform right now; they should work on letting developers get access to it more easily and strive to remove the cloud of uncertainty that has built up around it (i.e., will they shut me down if I do something too popular that colors outside the current lines?) It would benefit everyone, especially Twitter.

Do you think that's even possible? They really burned a lot of bridges with the way they treated developers in the past. Trying to build a business on top of somebody else's social networking platform has been a spectacularly bad bet the last 5 years or so. I sure wouldn't be first into that pool.

I hope it is. At the very least, they should be trying. It certainly won't be an overnight process, but with time and enough developer-friendly decisions / public guarantees, it could happen. They should start yesterday, though.

Twitter doesnt seem like it's capitalized on what it's good at, or anything really.

For personal: Facebook has network effect, complex relationships, share anything and everything, privacy, groups, etcs. Younger generations more focused on sharing are using Instagram, Snapchat, and all the messaging apps.

For work: LinkedIn gives value in seeing work histories, connections, companies, etc (although still a bad product but without competition)

For news: The mainstream just use news sites, search and Facebook or get alerts from all the other apps/networks/reddit and there's RSS which is way nicer for following blogs and niche news.

What Twitter has been good at is allowing people to have a easy public voice (although nobody might see it but its there) without being tied to a personal identity and giving the chance to talk to people you might never be able to reach otherwise. You can tweet at politicians, celebrities, top executives, companies and can reasonably expect a reply or exposure. That's really powerful and a great equalizer. It's also good for real-time obviously, working like a constant stream of consciousness of the collective you follow.

However like the article says, thats it. There's no movement on the product itself. Terrible UI with broken conversations, broken sharing, broken lists, no new features like deduping tweets, non-chronological ordering, better developer APIs, and the ads product isn't great either.

It's kind of sad that the network that originally began as messaging based around sms/phones has been completely overtaken by all other messaging and sharing apps while still keeping completely unnecessary limitations like 140 chars. There's just no focus here...

I think the disaster that is Twitter is a product of its culture. If you read the history of the business, it started with a group of people who really arrived in the business quite randomly. There wasn't much thought given to building a balanced team or a strong culture. Effectively, twitter was an accident that came out of another business.

Most worryingly, the founders couldn't agree on what the purpose of Twitter was, and illuminatingly people in this discussion still don't have a clear idea of its purpose. Is it a news broadcast system, to follow current events? Or is it about sharing your personal life with your friends?

From a technical point of view, I find Twitter very confusing. I read that they were at over a million users before having any kind of backup strategy. They rewrote their systems from Java to Scala, but then seemed to regret that decision, their decisions on shutting down API access to third parties have been really nasty... this kinda thing makes me worry that they don't have clear leadership.

And then there's the politics of infighting, and some of their executives being "overthrown" over time... I can't see how you can create a good culture when people at the top are behaving like that. It's hardly rocket science - just focus on the product and your users.

I think creating a culture from the beginning is a lot easier than changing an engrained culture, so my view is that Twitter is screwed. Failing a Jobsian turnaround, the best they can do is sell and sell fast. I can seriously see Twitter losing out to a startup. Any thoughts on whether they will survive?

The rewrite was from Ruby to Scala, though far more importantly, it was a re-architecting. And there are zero regrets. Without it, Twitter wouldn't exist anymore.

>The rewrite was from Ruby to Scala

Sorry, you're exactly correct. It was Ruby -> Scala and Java.

To be precise, according to Tony Pritezis from Twitter, Scala is the main language, Java is next, Ruby was still in use in 2014 but migrating away, C/C++ and Python for some specific tasks. He did also talk about some of the problems of using Scala, and I seem to recall someone saying that Scala may be less favoured at Twitter in the future.

What amazes me is how slowly it seems to move on for users.

There's a ton you could do to improve search, UIs on top of the feed, analytics, communities, twitter lists, conversations, media embedding and interactions.

On top of that social graph they had the potential to build a better, more real time, more community led Instagram, Snapchat or Youtube.

And yet it doesn't seem to move forward as a product.

The image cropping is something that annoys me. Someone will often post a photo in the their timeline that is pointless when it is cropped. eg a Meme with the captions missing.

Great points all. Especially #5.

One of the strangest things about Twitter is that its search seems broken. Sometimes when I'm trying to locate past tweets authored by myself or by someone else, I can quickly find them on Topsy, but almost never directly on Twitter.

Twitter has begun to feel stale. Considering how much I love learning from people like pmarca and pg through it, this is something that worries me.

I suspect that the number of people who use Twitter search for that is exceedingly low and non-monetizable compared to their target market.

Twitter has been working on excellent support (where "excellent" is defined as "good for Twitter") for embedding tweets inside news articles and the like. This means that if a celebrity (not a startup celebrity, a celebrity) tweets something important, it'll get picked up by BuzzFeed or something, and then you can use Google, the search engine people actually use, to find it. If it's not important, it doesn't need to be found; that's not what the platform is about.

Topsy has a simple "from" flag to restrict search results to a certain user. It only works sometimes when used directly in the Twitter search box.

> Twitter has turned into a place where famous people and news organizations broadcast text.

That's not unexpected given their signup flow, it's pages and pages you have to click through where it automatically follows hundreds of celebrities unless you uncheck the boxes.

Well twitter has just recently restructured the product team so maybe big things are in-store: http://recode.net/2015/09/02/twitter-restructures-product-te...

Parts of this are a little off, at least in how I use twitter.

"There is zero incentive in the product to interact with celebrities on Twitter, because no one will see the responses."

Maybe true for the 1mm+ follower people, but ironically, this is 90+% of how I actually use Twitter. I tweet at a mid-high volume (100k->500k) individual, and occasionally get a response, more often get a fave, and ever so often get a retweet.

For < 50k follower people, I almost always get a response if what I sent was thoughtful.

Also, I love looking at the responses to tweets - and often respond to those responses, and get a thread going with the responder - often dropping out the original person who tweeted altogether.

I'm not saying all is well in twitter world - but I quite enjoy (perhaps too much) the back and forth/threading/responding that twitter offers. I really, really don't need any more.

My main issue with Twitter now is the recent (undocumented) change to the mobile apps for "suggested tweets." (example: http://i.imgur.com/AfsmQgW.png )

As mentioned by the commentators, Twitter has a discovery issue. Twitter's solution is to put "suggested tweets" below the normal replies, but without any clear discernible division. (just "Suggested by Twitter" in light gray color). Way too many times I accidentally read suggested tweets instead of normal replies while instinctively scrolling to the bottom and I get very confused.

I really, really want to like Twitter, but I just can't. Most of the content in my stream is crap, as I (apparently) don't know the "correct" people to follow. Finding the "correct" people to follow is difficult, and even then they sometimes spew multiple boatloads of crap. :/ I wish there was a way to filter some of it out and only keep the good stuff.

Conversations are almost impossible to follow. Once you locate a good tweet, its a confusing process to find all the related tweets. Sometimes, they are below the tweet (which is confusing as I don't read from the bottom up most of the time) and sometimes they are buried inside the tweet. Grrrr!!!

Finally, putting non-text media in a tweet is turning out to be horrible. At least when tweets used to be ASCII, I could reasonably read through them. Now, I have pages and pages of little silent movies that start playing when they come into focus. How annoying is that!?

I really like the "World News Headline" feature that Dustin proposes and would probably use Twitter more if it has something like that. However, given that Twitter is transforming itself into a Vine/Instagram clone I probably won't be hitting the tweet box much in the future. :(

Bigger issue is no developer trusts twitter any more. Just like LinkedIn. twitter has been unkind to the developers which helped it make popular. Remember things like lists, hashtags, media embed are all brought to twitter before twitter did so itself. But developers of these innovations were treated badly. And hence no developer wants to develop for twitter platform any more.

Very interesting point regarding the illusion of interaction that Instagram provides. I do find Twitter's displaying of replies and retweets (to the first 100) questionable.

As for how Twitter can improve in that aspect, how about a horizontally-scrolling feed of users who retweet, and a less-annoying version of such for comments? They seem like relatively easy design choices.

Twitter need to focus more on developers. The underlying concept behind the site is really solid. Allowing people to build cool things which adds value and brings in new users is good for everyone. So make it easy for them! Their API is not great, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why they don't release official libraries for the major languages?

Twitter's problem is simpler: it is great for power users, shite for everyone else.

Twitter needs to curate the content I see better - especially for newer users. Twitter is boring as sin until you follow a few interesting people, then it becomes overwhelming as it adds too many more.

Twitter needs to focus on the feed being more malleable, both with and without personal effort from me.

That may be trading one problem for another. The number one complaint I hear about Facebook is how unpredictable the feed is. For power users, Twitter's current approach to their feed is predictable and reliable: strict time order, nothing missing from the people you want to hear from.

At the beginning of the year Twitter started testing out a "while you were away" feature that curates, currently on mobile only: http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/21/twitter-launches-while-you-...

Personally, my initial reaction was instantly negative. I've now come to grudgingly tolerate it; it's not very good, but it's limited to a small number of tweets at a predictable place in my timeline, so I know it's not messing with anything. I've never missed it when at a desktop, though.

I see "while you were away" on the browser/desktop version as well....

Not sure I agree about #1 and maybe my twitter experience is different from others. First, if I want to communicate with others I take it over FB/Email/Messenger of choice. Sure public conversation is nice, but its painful over Twitter and I'm not sure how it could be made better. Everyone talks about how a threaded view would be nice, but people fail to consider that Twitter conversations are never 1-to-1, its usually multiple people tweeting at one person. Having a conversation on something as open as Twitter is like trying to have a conversation with the President during his speech. Not everyone can talk at one, and no matter how you do it, the interface will drown some out. Combine that with the fact that you can tweet anything at anyone (unlike a Facebook/HN thread which is usually around a specific topic), you get a very constrained opportunity to have actually conversations.

However, Twitter does a better job at problem #1 than instagram does. Beiber is not replying to fans over Instagram - and I doubt people are actually communicating to celebrities via Instagram comments, have you seen Beiber's (or any music celeb's) instagram? Its a wasteland of spam, self promotion, and emoji. I doubt Justin Bieber has a higher reply rate on Instagram than Twitter - it's very easy to see that Justin Beiber engages fans on Twitter, not so much on Instagram.

That said, as someone who uses Twitter heavily, but never tweets - my most useful function for it is a realtime news feed (to not just news orgs, but people, parody accounts, comedians, tech nerds, sports news, ...). I place as much emphasis on the ability to "respond and have conversations" to the success of Twitter, as to the success of Buzzfeed and other news orgs (- I doubt you need an active comments section to have a good news site - most of it is garbage anyways).

The second and third points are apt though - Facebook's "trending" seems a lot more useful the Twitter's, however I'm not sure how useful either is without constant curation. Even if Twitter had a super sophisticated algorithm to automatically detect topics - without curation you end up with garbage. Facebook's trending is just as useless once you have the reason why its trending.

Lastly, FTA >Twitter has turned into a place where famous people and news organizations broadcast text.

I'm not sure how Twitter can fix this, but my response to this is if this is what Twitter has become, then its because you made it that way. Reddit now has a subreddit /r/BlackPeopleTwitter which would give you a very different idea on what Twitter is if your Twitter experience was like that.

Your word in Twitter's ear!

I seem to recognise a pattern where Twitter & Apple's AppStore fail in the same way: Failing to give end losers (er, users) intelligent filters so they can decide what they want to see, and equally important, what they do not want to see. The conspicuous absence of those options speaks loud & clear as to the platform owner's intentions.

I very much like tweets be ethereal like SnapChat snaps. Many people don't like to keep a history of stuff they said previously.

I know somebody who has a script setup to delete the majority of his tweets (except for blog posts) after 24 hours.


I encourage anyone who thinks that #2 is as easy as the OP to give it a shot. It's actually quite a hard problem, especially when you have to deal with fake news tweets and want over 80% accuracy.

Disclaimer, I work for a startup doing exactly this, so if it's something you actually want to do for a paycheck, shoot me an email.

Twitter is very confusing and useless to anyone who wants to use less than one hour per day. So, if they focused on interactivity between anonimous,famous and "live events", most people who do not want to live on Twitter, will have a reason to open the app at least a few times a day.

Tech celebrities such as Guy Kawasaki have had teams of tweeters working for them for years: it seems reasonable to assume large numbers of people are employed to interact with show biz personality obsessives...just like all the faked autographs the Monkees etc used to mail to their fans...

> The fact that automatic tweets from apps are considered rude is one of the biggest failings of Twitter’s product team.

This is THE ONE THING they've done right. I'm come on Twitter to read what people wrote about stuff. Last thing we need is an emotionless machine generated feed.

If the MM+ tweeter is half way savvy they'd do what Zuck does and reply to some small % of his followers. I'm sure if they did that, a 13 year old follower would irrationally hope that their tweet was seriously read and would engage in the conversation.

Thats funny, if followed it seems these advices would transform twitter into facebook

So, yeah..

Disconnecting from twitter was one of the best moves I ever made. Being subjected to a high volume/low quality stream of garbage is not good for the mind.

Why not just unfollow the accounts which are posting garbage?

There certainly is too much noise but lists solve that very nicely.

Dustin clearly doesn't follow @cher if he thinks there's no meaningful interaction with celebrities going on on Twitter

Yes, and for that last few months the "Whats new" message on Google Play has been: We made it easier to add you comments to others tweets - or something to that effect.

I have been saying their problem is they have been too busy painting themselves into a corner:

  [v] alienating 3rd part developers 
  [v] public by default - no organization level settings 
  [v] keep the cute 140 char limit that is now just an historic artifact
I guess you can add more to that list.

Twitter like Trello is a tool, a mainstream tool got to be horizontal product [1].

There is no point discussing about it should be this or that. Feel free to use it the way you want it to be.

[1] http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/06.html

Can someone tell what is wrong with this observation and why the downvotes ?

Unlike Trello, Twitter is publicly-traded with mandated financial disclosures, so discussion is fair.

But the post won't discuss about financials. It went on bashing twitter as if it at its current state is pretty much screwed up which I disagree because I am quite active on the platform and find it cool.

-> Twitter feels too much like a one-way broadcast system. It needs to feel more like a community, with meaningful two-way interaction.

I totally disagree. If you follow a avalanche of people and brands your timeline gets useless within an hour. Twitter is place to build a community that you want to be in and participate if you want to get max out of it. If one expects it to be a community he/she shall participate. Why would I expect Paul Graham to be replying me on Twitter for nothing (just because I follow him and mentioned him some non of his business comment) ?

[Edit: added some reference from the post]

If Twitter didn't exist, what would the world use instead?

Facebook. That's really Twitter's major problem. Facebook used to be mostly friends chatting to family and friends, but nowadays it's the single biggest source of news links and the sort of viral spam that used to circulate on Twitter.

Twitter is still a faster and more reliable source of breaking news, but not that many people (apart from journalists) care about speed. And Facebook's threaded chat provides a much better way to discuss stories than Twitter.

In sum, for most people, Facebook's news feed is probably now a better Twitter than Twitter.

twitter's default landing page is more interesting than the default page that you see after login

I'm a power user and have been on Twitter since 2007. I used 3rd-party apps until they fucked them all. I'm now forced to use their glittery official app full of ads and suggestions and things I don't care about. I follow less than 50 people and use Twitter 24/7 literally. I never miss a tweet.

> First, for normal users, Twitter feels too much like a one-way broadcast system. It needs to feel more like a community, with meaningful two-way interaction. Right now, a reply to Justin Bieber by a 16-year-old fangirl goes into the ether, never to be seen again. There is zero incentive in the product to interact with celebrities on Twitter, because no one will see the responses.

Let's force Justin Bieber to sit down and read the thousands of replies he gets to each any of his tweets.

Let's also make it so when I click on a Justin Bieber tweet, my browser downloads a webpage of 50MB with all the responses so I can read them all.

> Second–and this one is obvious to almost everyone–Twitter needs to focus on realtime events. When I open Twitter during a major debate in the US, or when a bomb has exploded in Bangkok, there should be a huge fucking banner at the top that says “follow this breaking event.”

No, please, please no, NOOO. Some of us are just simply not interested in real-time events and use Twitter to talk to our friends. If a bomb explodes in Bangkok, I simply don't care. If I did, I'd use the search engine. And by knowing Twitter, they would probably make the banner mandatory, or would make you dismiss it each time (along with a nice "Did you like this?").

> Third, Twitter has fucked up multimedia integration. Why the hell does adding a photo or video use up some of the 140 characters I want to use for my description? Why does it crop my photo? Why does it not show full-width images in the feed?

Because Twitter is a text-only social network... Or at least that's what it was.

> Fourth, let’s talk about third party payloads/integrations on Twitter. They have never felt native, and they are still–after three years–in a bizarrely dire state.

Same response as before: I think media integrations should not be encouraged.

> And that leads to me to the final thing I want to talk about, which is also the most important: Twitter has fucked up its platform. Twitter has turned into a place where famous people and news organizations broadcast text. That’s it.

So don't follow them. Follow only humans with real feelings that are not using Twitter to earn themselves money.

> The fact that automatic tweets from apps are considered rude is one of the biggest failings of Twitter’s product team–Twitter should be the place for apps to broadcast realtime information about someone.

So you want to read automated tweets all day? Don't be silly, who wants to read "Johnny has favourited this vid on youtube!!" "Mike has uploaded this pic to Instagram!!" all day? You? No, nobody, that's why these integrations with automatic tweets are RUDE. If I want to know what you uploaded to Instagram I'd follow you there, jackass!

There, I vented it.

When/how did Twitter mess up third party clients? I find the official apps/page terrible (hard to follow conversations, embedded ads etc) and I'm very happy with tweetbot as my client.

They severely limited the amount of requests per minute (for example you can only reload your timeline 15 times every 15 minutes). They have also refused to open up the API endpoints that would allow those 3rd party apps to have a functionality on par with the official clients. They also limited the number of authenticated accounts under one app to 100,000, a limit which has been hit by some clients already.

That said it must be understood that tweetbot is probably the only worthy 3rd party client as of now. There are lots of Android clients but they are all of a very low quality. Whether this is because of the lack of incentives to build an app that uses an API that could close at any moment, or just reveals how bad Android apps are overall, remains to be seen.

Four years ago or so I used twicca, which was pretty good at that moment, but it hasn't been updated since then.

According to Ryan Sarver, former Twitter Platform Director:

"Developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no." "We need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way."


Ok thanks that explains a lot. It's true that tweetbot does seem to stand out, I did try a few others and while they were a lot better than the official, they were still flawed in one or many ways.

It struck me as odd to have a public API that serves the same content twitter is serving themselves, while they actively lower the quality of their own content by introducing ads! Maybe they have finally realized that, and will just keep strangling the API until they own their own content once again.

You couldn't imagine youtube having a free API that served the same videos without ads.

I love that the author is criticizing Twitter's UI, yet when I tried to find a date of the article, I had to mysteriously hover over the title of the post to see it magically appear before me.

Ehh, it's right there at 0.05 opacity. It just gets opacity: 1 when hovering. Try tuning your monitor, you should really be able to see that.

Nice if you have a big monitor in perfect lighting conditions and good eyes. Grandparent's complaint is legit.

His complaint that a readability issue on a single string somehow makes the author unsuited to comment on the clusterfuck that is twitters UI? I don't agree.

Twitter's real problem is that it does not have, and never will have, a CEO with the authority to make big changes. No matter what the next CEO's vision is, as a non-founder it will be impossible for that person to satisfy all of the major stakeholders.

> a non-founder it will be impossible for that person to satisfy all of the major stakeholders.

As Twitter is a publicly-traded company, it would be impossible for that person to satisfy all of the major stakeholders.

"Satisfy" was the wrong word but I couldn't think of the right one. What I'm saying is that the CEO of Twitter will never have the same power as say Mark Zuckerberg does.

How come?

The next CEO is at least moderately likely to be Jack.

The primary problem for twitter is that they more than ever is a protocol for link-sharing.

If twitter wants to survive they need to get content onto their platform which means loose the 140 character.

In some ways and ironically, Medium could be a kind of replacement for twitter if they found a nicer balance between long and short posts.

What about Tumblr? Commonly when people ask to lose the 140-character limit I try and understand what people are trying to accomplish and how that is any different from what Tumblr has now.

After spending some time on tumblr, I've noticed the 140-character limit is great from a reader point of view. What it ensures (like you are alluding to) is that one user doesn't dominate my feed/attention with one really long post. I don't need curation on Twitter, because the time it takes to read 100 twitter posts is constant. It's harder to get trapped in an platform-imposed filter bubble on Twitter this way too because there's less pressure on the platform to algorithmically rearrange your newsfeed as well.

But Tumblr is Tumblr, they start from a different context.

Who cares about Twitter? Sublevel is way better than that crappy thing.

Twitters problem, is that you had an idea, and it took 5243 characters to relate it. So, instead of using their platform you went elsewhere.

(139 characters, maybe I should use twitter...)

and if you had written 5243 characters about what you just said (and you could have), then I wouldn't have read a word.

I'm being honest - you took a position and defended it, I read it, and moved on. All in 139 characters.

I literally wouldn't have had time to read a wall of text (which is what 5,000 characters is, it's 850 words, i.e. a dense, full page and a half in a word processor, if 11-point text.)

this is why twitter took off. it makes certain communication possible that just wouldn't be! it lets a celebrity talk to people who wouldn't read even a single page interview by them, for example. sorry if people don't get this.

OK, I'll admit, I haven't been following what is going on with Twitter, but come on people, their product is limited to 140 characters. Surely they have something to fix.

I recently visited a Twitter page, to find that it downloaded 6.3 MB of data across 63 requests. Since it only displays around 10 140-character tweets on the first page, that's a bloat factor of 4718x in my book. Twitter is done.

How is bloat related to their viability as a business / long-term profitability? Does the extra bandwidth cost them a significant amount of money? Does it negatively impact a significant number of users in their target market, sufficiently so that they will stop using Twitter?

If the average user cared about page loading time, the majority of the modern internet wouldn't exist.

A multimedia site can justify the heavy asset loading.

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