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Twitter's missing manual (eev.ee)
244 points by prawn on Feb 26, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

Nobody who needs to read this is going to have the patience to read it.

If you make 10 screenshots of tweets that illustrate the various things you need to know, with a brief one-paragraph explanation for each, that might do the trick.

People don't really want to know how the thing works. They really want to know how it's typically used, so they can make tweets that blend in and make it seems like they know what they're doing.

(And yes, it's pretty hard to figure out how to actually use Twitter correctly.)

I think the more interesting thing is that Twitter itself doesn't even try. Even if you dig through ALL their help pages, only about a third of the features/quirks the blog post mentions are actually documented

I don't think most people 'need' to read this - it consists of a few important points which can generally be found elsewhere, plus a ton of esoterica that rarely matters. But as someone who spends a good amount of time on Twitter, I found it interesting, and wouldn't appreciate if the amount of content were reduced for accessibility's sake.

One exception: I don't think the self-reply trick is well known, but it's useful in the very common case of splitting a message across multiple tweets. I suppose 10K extended messages will obviate it, if they ever actually show up...

The point isn't to have an actual manual but to show how complex things have grown.

I don't know. I'm getting a lot of value out of this as a manual. I've tried to get into twitter a few times, but I had trouble figuring out how you do anything. I was surprised to find (guess it's still the case) that most things aren't documented anywhere.

I've bookmarked this, and will definitely refer to it next time I try to do anything with twitter.

I think this actually makes it more fun!

Too little, too late. Twitter has the most abysmal UI/UX I've ever seen, especially when you consider its clout and popularity (although that is fast waning).

Any meaningful change will be so jarring that the dyed in the wool users will balk at it, kicking up a storm of protests and it will not serve to bring in new users (they come in not for good UI but for the network effect - but they don't use it and leave because of the UI).

I honestly can't believe how insanely horrible twitter UI is - and it seems to be something that all twitter users have agreed to never mention. It just leaves one breathless after it opens the FOURTH modal window on top of the previous three that it had already opened.

On the bright side of things, for anyone teaching UI, twitter is a fantastic example of what NOT to do.

If you look closer at the most prolific users they are not accessing it via the site, but via either the official app or a third party app/service (i think Hootsuite is popular with heavy users, as it allows them to track and post on a number of "social media" services).

Yep, and Twitter refuses to give API access to their newer features like polls, information shown in the connect tab, group DMs, etc.

So they're pushing new features that heavy users will never see, because 3rd party clients are vastly superior.

It's a marvel their product managers and executives can get out of bed unassisted in the morning.

Well some third party client can, by pretending to be the official client. This by allowing you to insert the ID strings of said client yourself.

Maybe Twitters "UI" is so messy is because its text. People can make up any convent they want. Like signing posts with ^.

Nah, its messy because cloudcookoolander ui designers.

Notice how if you click a tweet in the timeline, you do not get a overlay to show the conversation. Nope, it push away the tweets below to make room. Then when you click anywhere else on the site the conversation collapse back, shifting the position of surrounding tweets once more.

Similarly, the only way to see a image full size is to basically drag and drop it into a new tab. If you click it you just get a floating view that barely make use of 75% of the screen, with a copy of the related tweet below it.

To make use of the twitter site i find myself liberally middle and ctrl clicking timestamps and similar to throw tweets into new tabs.

And their latest "innovation", embedded tweets, basically wrecks their own conversation view. Now you can't click a tweet and see the reverse timeline. Nope, you have to click each of them in turn to dig into the dialog.

When was the last time you used Twitter? The first concern you mentioned is something they fixed a few weeks back. I'm still trying to understand the rest.

Could have sworn it still behaved that way just the other day, but now it seems to use a overlay. Weird.

compare and contrast to reddit: text but extremely simple, intuitive, you can follow conversations, know who is talking to whom, respond, link, etc.

I get what you're saying but I don't think we should hold up Reddit as a gold standard of accessibility.

I'm fairly technically proficient and I have a hard time figuring out how to "onboard" myself to Reddit and to understand the whole system. It's relatively intimidating.

If we want to stick to text-only, I think HN is actually a better example. Of course, Facebook is really the pinnacle of broad accessibility.

One thing i like about Reddit is that you can temporarily collapse a noisy thread so you don't have to scroll past it.

I was just thinking of commenting about the lack of collapsing threads on HN as well. Nice to see I'm not the only one who's missing it here. (Especially if the most upvoted comment is not interesting to me, but resulted in a lot of conversation)

I use this [1], but if you click on a link and hit the back button, all the threads will expand back.

[1] https://github.com/andrewheins/HN-Comment-Hider

Oh neat. Thanks!

I think reddit gets kind ofh ard to follow for conversations. It's really good for content aggregation, but I much prefer 4chan (and any other chan etc) for conversations. Though I think in the end thats more to do with the functionality than the UI. You definitely need an extension to use 4chan seriously but the same can be said for reddit.

I've said all this but either is INIFNITELY better than twitter, especially twitter's standard web client. TweetDeck makes the thing barely useable.

I think this is a brilliant illustration of the "wear marks" around a basic service. At its core, it's still 140 chars, but each of these subtle deviations represents a bend in the direction of features valuable to users.

Developers and designers can benefit from this by not overspecifying how a technology is to be used until loads of feedback has returned. Kind of like the old story about the architect who didn't fill in the sidewalks until students had worn paths into the campus lawn :)

... I THINK I just upvoted you, which was my intention, but I'm on mobile and am also not sure if I downvoted you. If so, my bad: this is a great comment.

I don't think HN has downvotes...

It does once you hit a certain karma threshold (maybe 500?).

Steve is definitely faaaar above that threshold.

There's a karma threshold to downvote.

Took me reading this 4800 words of instructions to get it: Twitter is the Dwarf Fortress of social.

LoL that's the most hilarious and apt way of putting it :)

Wow. I didn't know it was this bad. They probably have too many developers and "product manager of x" types, with no one person really in charge? So it ends up being a race for lots of people to get their pet feature in... Repeat for a decade.

Seriously, this looks like something out of a consumer/UI facing open source project with 1000 contributors. (My favorite example: The glorious spectacle that is the VLC settings dialog.)

Most of these things really come down to implementation detail(e.g. formatting rules), and they are mostly interesting for aesthetic purposes.

The important ones like conventions surrounding replies are weird artifacts left over from the early days of the product. Twitter bottlenecks quickly in lengthy conversations amongst multiple parties and you really have to carefully respect the social dynamics it creates, or people will just block your rude self. If there is one place where the product could use revision, it's in improving average case conversation quality.

When you're limited to 140 characters, aesthetics become essential for communication.

This is Twitter's blessing and its curse: It's a game we willingly play to communicate within its limitations.

Even the greatest artists have to paint within the canvas. By making the canvas ludicrously small, limitations become a democratizing force.

I disagree. The business logic (at least the reported effects of the business logic) for blocking and muting seem rather arcane.

> On one end of the spectrum you have tools like Notepad, where the only easter egg is that pressing F5 inserts the current time.

I wonder how many people reading this just opened Notepad to try this.

I believe adding ".LOG" to the beginning of file also automatically inserts the date each time you open the file so you can use it as a journal. I don't have access to Windows right now to test that though.

I was about to post that this is the Notepad Easter Egg, but you beat me by 5 hours. I guess I'll upvote you instead.

It's not an Easter Egg, it's right there in the Edit menu. Always has been, AFAIK.

Me. By the way, it's 2:57 PM 2/26/2016.

On Windows 7, try this:

   Ctrl+Windows logo key+Tab
Microsoft calls this "Aero Flip Mode".

Probably not in Windows 10, where the interface was made to look More Like Mobile.

It's a nice and simple way to log your activities. I use it all the time. I would use Notepadd++ if it had this as a native feature, without the need of mapping a shortcut.

I used this for a long time:

  alias log='(date; cat) >>'

  ~> log file.txt
  Some log lines.
  Followed by a control-D.
  ~> log file.txt
  And some more.
  ~> cat file.txt 
  Sat Feb 27 00:16:49 PST 2016
  Some log lines.
  Followed by a control-D.
  Sat Feb 27 00:17:04 PST 2016
  And some more.
But then I wanted to be able to write to the same logfile from a few terminals at once without interleaving the lines, so: (fish syntax)

  function log
    set --local the_log $HOME/incomplete-logs/$argv[1]-(date "+%Y-%m-%d-%H%M%S")
    date >> $the_log
    rlwrap cat >> $the_log
    and cat $the_log >> $argv[1]
    and mv $the_log (dirname $the_log)/../completed-logs/

> the analytics tools (pretty but pointless)

Hah, yeah. I was curious about how these worked a while back and figured out that a tweet's "Impressions" includes any time someone reloads a timeline that includes your tweet somewhere within. This includes your own page loads, so if you open Twitter a few times throughout the day you'll see your tweets accumulate impressions by default. And if you're followed by a really active Twitter user, those numbers will be inflated quite a bit.

I'm not sure whether this is shortsightedness on Twitter's part or "convenient" padding of their numbers.

To be fair, that's more or less what an impression is.

If you want "unique visits," you can look for unique visitors or unique impressions or just uniques, depending on what company you are working for.

(And if you are doing TV, you can get an estimate of how many people saw it on DVR in the next three days)

True, however Twitter doesn't expose uniques at all, only impressions and "engagements", which also include your own activity. Hence the analytics tools they offer are "pretty but pointless".

> I'm not sure whether this is shortsightedness on Twitter's part or "convenient" padding of their numbers.

That's exactly the definition of the word "impression" for ad-serving systems.

Sure, but

- Twitter highlights impressions when it's a particularly useless metric for their platform. Why not expose uniques?

- Why include a user's own activity in their analytics data? Does anyone really want that?

- A tweet doesn't even have to appear on the screen to acquire an "impression". It could be far down the timeline and out of view, but as long as it's included in a batch in an API response, the counter goes up.

- This number is exposed to everyone, not just ad industry insiders, and is subtitled "number of times people saw this tweet" - but that's not what's counted.

The implementation may be technically correct, but it is, I think, misleadingly biased toward higher numbers. I can post a tweet and it can get 10 impressions in less than a minute, just from my clicking around. If I expand the tweet and click "reply" to attach another 140 characters, that's two "engagements". If I click a link to make sure it works, that's three. Honest values for those numbers would probably be zero.

These interactions may be convoluted, and at times surprising, but at least they're deterministic.

This (the fact it's deterministic) is what makes Twitter so useful for me, and what drove me away from Facebook (with its stochastic Timeline).

Don't worry, they're working hard to change that: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11048523

They also constantly censor their own platform to fit the narrative of those running it. They've kicked out and muted multiple users for being conservative. They mute or remove 'problematic' hashtags like #JeSuiMilo

Just recently they've also censored the #whichhillary hashtag.

The fact that twitter execs fundraise for Hillary Clinton must have no bearing on this, right?

Do you have a link with some evidence of this political manipulation?

The first article is about Gamergate, the second is a Daily Kos article with a title ending in a question mark.

> Tweets may contain newlines, and there doesn’t seem to be any limit to how many.


138 rather, because of stripped space.

Edit: Actually fewer because consecutive newlines are reduced to two. so like...2/3 * 140 roughly

I wasn't sure if that was client-side or server-side, and, if client-side, if the filtering is done at submit-time or display-time. I have seen someone tweet something with many sequential newlines, so I figured that it was probably client-dependent (I use Tweetbot).

Ah, not sure. You could certainly cheat in some ways with e.g. zero width characters probably

I just tested by typing ".[cr][cr]" into the new tweet box, then cutting and pasting until I was over the limit. 93 new lines. Which is, indeed, int(140*(2/3)).

He's talking about the amount of them you may send to the server, not how many the server actually stores.

Just the other day, a tweet of mine mentioned $PATH (as in where to find executables in bash) with the unexpected result of linking to the Twitter account of path. Live and learn.

This is similar to having a Github account that is an Objective-C keyword:

https://github.com/protocol https://github.com/dynamic


@IBOutlet and @IBAction appear to be available if you'd like some Swift issue spam!

More specifically, the cashtag "$PATH" leads to a search results page with any mention of the term "$PATH" (which is useful for searching for finding tweets with stock symbols).

This search results page also shows any highly relevant users, which is why @Path shows up. Searching for $MSFT will show the account for @microsoft, for example.

This isn't a good manual for Twitter because it doesn't distinguish between features, quirks, bugs and just "interesting tidbits". It just lumps things together categorically. That means anyone who is new to Twitter is gonna get halfway through the first section and be lost.

Twitter could use a good tutorial for new users, but it should be written as a tutorial for new users. Not as a "Here's a bunch of categorized random things."

I think "Twitter's missing manual" was more of a tongue-in-cheek comment than a descriptive headline. As someone said above, the point was to illustrate how complex and weird Twitter has grown.

Textbook example of poor top down management. Think of the case studies that will result :)

(Jack hasn't been back long enough so not saying it's him.)

Way too complex stuff for a minimalistic service like Twitter.

I found a lot of this out on my own. When people ask "how does twitter work" I'm always at a loss for words.

That person's blog is pretty fantastic.

Famous for "PHP: a fractal of bad design" which is well written even if you disagree.

As somebody who played with the Twitter API, this post is so awesome. So much knowledge packed in a single article.

Can I downvote this post, it's like common sense for anyone who uses Twitter...

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