A Twitter I Would Pay For

To be blunt, I’ll admit: I’ve poked fun at Twitter since the very beginning. Because it seemed like fluff, like noise, because it reduced smart people to oversharing narcissists, because it created strange, artificial, disproportionate popular kid/unpopular kid/cult leader/sheep hierarchies. I felt dorky just saying the word Twitter.

Maybe I was overthinking it. Kinda.

Six months after creating an account, I’m still trying to convert my Twitter usage into something more meaningful, but along the way I’ve definitely met cool/interesting people and begun to notice the benefits. So is it me, or is it Twitter?

Part of the frustration it is that Twitter has vast potential for broadcasting useful bits….but no means of upgrading to something richer and more stable, despite all the pleading.

Even when it’s being defended admirably by top designers, Twitter feels like it’s only operating at 10% of its potential. Sure, if used optimally, the design community could benefit tremendously from the grains of information being tweeted about each day. Potentially. Same goes for blogs.

Yet the reality….seems like Twitter is primarily an ocean of non-specific chatter, in-jokes and mundane observations. If you know the person in real life, that can be charming, if not, it can be noisy. On a bad day, most Twitter feeds lack the one thing that makes the web an important phenomenon: actual content (no, the “fish tacos nom nom nom” stuff doesn’t qualify, not even a little). I tend to follow other web designers, but following Zeldman or Eric Meyer does NOT guarantee anything will be learned via osmosis.

Above all, I’d love if the Twitter experience was more ‘educational’. Maybe that makes me a killjoy.

Speaking of which, Eric Karjaluoto recently wrote:

Twitter is “high-school” and man, I hated high-school.

The chatter on Twitter is eroding to a point at which it has almost nothing to do with actual dialogue. Increasingly people are using it less to talk to one another, and more to collect as many followers as possible.

To me, this is the whole part of adulthood that’s great. We actually listen to others and learn from them. Twitter isn’t built to do this, or at least, we’re not using it in this way. We’re using it to gain status and speak about nothing 140 characters at a time. “Nothings”are great to your friends who actually appreciate your trivia, but to the rest of the world it’s a big pile of noise.

Twitter obviously isn’t going anywhere. It’s just going more mainstream, if anything. Despite my complaints, if Twitter gave users the ability tune their interests and preferences more, I would definitely pay for the service. Below are some wishlist features I’d love to see in a “Twitter Pro”, though I realize some of them are already available from various third-party twitter apps.

  1. Rich, Facebook-style Web Interface

    Instead of getting pinged all day from Twhirl, I’d love a web-based Twitter site that resembled Facebook. You could see a visual stream of who added who to their ‘follow’ list, you could trace relationships easier, and best of all, you could dip into the information at your leisure rather than feeling distracted by updates all day.

  2. Focused ‘Channels’

    I’d love the ability to group the people I follow into categories like “Design”, “Typography”, “Real-Life Friends” so I could read their updates depending on the mood I was in.

  3. Private Groups

    Along those lines, it would also be nice if Twitter allowed invite-only groups…

  4. Business-Class Options

    …especially for people who want to use Twitter updates like a stopwatch while collaborating with co-employees on marathon projects. (ex: “Just finished task X, moving on to task Y”)

  5. Better Conversation Threading

    If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Twitter was all non-sequitirs. When I’m following, say, Jeff Croft and he’s replying to one of his followers, that bite-sized information doesn’t mean much unless you actively go back and trace the conversation. There could be a much better, threaded-comment (or some other visualization) interface that made the interactions more meaningful.

  6. More Meaningful Profiles and Taxonomy

    I would love for Twitter to analyze relationships between users based on their profile and who they know, and to be able to view that data in various forms. Which leads me to my next point…

  7. Recommendations Algorithm

    I’d love for Twitter to intelligently understand me better, based on my interests, conversations and choice of friends, so that it can recommend people to follow.

  8. Smart Image & Link Management

    Personally, I use Twitter mostly as a link-blog, as do other designers. I’d love if Twitter parsed these links and allowed you to sort through their archives. I would love to peek into a user’s history and sort his updates by the Twitterpic images he’s posted or the by the URLs he’s posted — with embedded thumbnails, even. Archive features would be nice, not to mention other sorted views…

  9. Calendar-based Views

    Granted, looking back at one’s tweets overlaid on a calendar makes for some tedious reading, but like with the previous request, this could come in handy once in awhile. One day, I may want to go back and view parallel conversations about a topic happening at the same time (ex: Election ’08).

  10. Advanced Ettiquette Features

    Facebook has a nice feature that lets you “tune” your preferences for receiving status updates. Applied to Twitter, you could potentially turn someone off completely for a week but not have to unfriend them. And you could do it all without them knowing. You should also be able to accept DMs from people you don’t follow. For that matter, the whole DM thing is broken in a number of ways.

Are there any Twitter features that you’d definitely pay for?

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  • http://hadi.wordpress.com Hadi Farnoud

    oh God, You should be twitter developer or CEO! that’s exactly what I thought for twitter!

  • http://bradygo.blogspot.com bradyGo

    Threading functionality alone would vastly improve Twitter. … and although It’s interesting to play around with these ideas I dont expect to see any of them implemented… even though these are all good ideas. Twitter seems quite content on building strategic alliances with other social networking sites that already offer some of these same features, rather than expanding on their own platform.

  • http://www.haveyoumettony.com tony

    I would pay billions for something that gave an electric shock to anyone that posted “Follow @thisperson for great ways on marketing yourself”. I got in a loop of those folks early on and unfollowed most of them in a hurry.

    I still haven’t found much use for Twitter on my own personal space, but I’m becoming addicted to it by using it through work. I feel a little guilty by running the station’s RSS feed through there, since I hate others that have *just* the RSS, but I think I’m getting more vocal and including my own commentary, which is fun. My personal account has about 5 followers/following and maybe a dozen updates. Meh.

    But as I read your post, I flashed back to this post I read the other day, which has ways to hack up your Twitter account and make some of your wishlist come true.

  • http://www.perfectflavor.com Colin Steele

    Excellent points. Twitter is the new Myspace. It will be “fun” for awhile, and in five years something else will come roaring up and we’ll all be saying, “What was I thinking when I used the word ‘tweet’ like it was cool?”

    The reason we have the phrase “personal life” is because it’s… wait for it… personal. And trying to compress down public (or even one-on-one) discourse into 140 bytes will ultimately prove futile.

    It’ll just take us a little while to figure that out.

  • http://www.stookstudio.com Erwin Heiser

    I think twitter is such a success because it does 1 thing and only 1 thing. Twittering is the new blogging and I echo Colin’s sentiments: right now everyone and their dog is doing it, next year we’ll be doing something else.

  • http://www.billyhunt.com Billy Hunt

    I agree with everything you are saying. Categories especially would be nice for me. As I have expanded my network, twitter has become less and less useful (opposite of facebook). Now I only use it to shout into the storm, just using hellotxt to update it along with facebook, linkedin, and the like.

  • http://www.panhistoria.com Dan Rice

    Actually I don’t want any of those things nor to pay for them. I have some of them in the free apps people are developing organically for the platform. To me a successful application is one that people can grab hold of and make their own and I think that’s what happens with Twitter. The fact that it SO simple is why I’m on Twitter and not on Facebook (dullsville) and why I hate MySpace.

  • Darren

    Twitter seems quite content on building strategic alliances with other social networking sites that already offer some of these same features, rather than expanding on their own platform.

    But as I read your post, I flashed back to this post I read the other day, which has ways to hack up your Twitter account and make some of your wishlist come true.

    Thanks, there do seem to be great scripts cropping up. I know Twitter doing “one thing well, and one thing only” is part of its charm. I’m kind of just imagining a business tack they could take, in which they slowly add on features to a larger Twitter environment, while charging for additional services.

    And at some point all the third-party Twitter apps become a little fragmented and chaotic. You have to constantly be on the lookout for new apps and improvements, rather than waiting for Twitter to systematically roll them out (ala WordPress).

    To me a successful application is one that people can grab hold of and make their own and I think that’s what happens with Twitter. The fact that it SO simple is why I’m on Twitter and not on Facebook (dullsville) and why I hate MySpace.

    To each his own, though. The Facebook model really seems to work for some people. It’s simple enough, but still moderately customizable.

    FWIW, it’s not the simplicity I dislike. It’s that the format is so routinely abused, the content becomes noisy. If users had more options, they’d potentially have whatever Twitter experience they desired: more politics, less politics, turning some users down, some up, ignoring tweets depending on certain keywords, etc.

    Above all, those things would be optional. No one would force paid upgrades on users who enjoy the current system.

  • http://www.twitter-howto.com twittergator

    Although I am sure some of the featuresyou mention will eventually be available directly through twitter as it will open up more monitization oportunities. How ever all of your points of discussion are already available via 3rd party apps.

    What makes twitter so popular is the simplicity of twitter added to by many apps and tools which allow twitter to be used in so many different ways.

  • http://www.joshuaclanton.com/blog Joshua Clanton

    Hmm. It sounds like you haven’t tried TweetDeck yet. It’s not perfect, but it does give you the ability to set up groups, filter based on the presence of links, ignore certain people temporarily (or permanently), etc.

  • http://www.thisisaaronslife.com Aaron Irizarry

    Great points, i would agree that i would like to see something more centralized, some of these feature are available through 3rd parties… but not all of them. It would be nice to have it all in one place with the ability to condense content to what i am looking for and find helpful.

    Aaron I

  • http://www.badcat.com Kel

    This looks like it’s pretty close albeit a bit on the “spammy” side. They say it’s SOLD OUT, but I’m sure waving a few more bucks might just put it back on the market ;-) Tweet Pro/

  • Darren

    @joshua: I checked out Tweetdeck the same night I posted. It’s darn close in some respects to what I’m imagining, and I suspect the folks who actually operate Twitter would rather rely on 3rd parties doing this kind of work for them rather than building the web-based tools I was talking about. Interested to see what they plan on doing with Twitter (and how they’ll profit) in 2009.

    @Kel: tweetpro sounds interesting too, though seems like the interface could use some love.

  • http://www.patb-photography.co.uk/weddings/ Pat

    You are so right. I keep hearing how twitter is can be really useful and that you can do things like posting questions and someone will have the answer, unfortunately that is not the reality that I’ve found. Perhaps I haven’t got enough followers with the right knowledge, but there is not way to search for people based on knowledge or interests.

    It has great potential but does not yet deliver.

    http://www.pab-photography.co.uk

  • http://www.teamlalala.com/blog/ Lawrence Krubner

    Hmm, your site says that my last comment was caught by the spam filter. Okay, I’ll try this again with no link.

    There was a debate on a similar issue on TechCrunch:

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/12/27/bloggers-lose-the-plot-over-twitter-search/

    From Michael Arrington:

    For the record, I agree with Loic. Being able to filter search results, if you choose, by the number of followers a user has makes sense. Without it, you have no way of knowing which voices are louder and making a bigger impact. It’s a way to make sense of a query when thousands or tens of thousands of results are returned.

    Of course, I’m pretty sure I can live without this feature, too. I’m failing to get too worked up over it. But the outpouring of emotion from bloggers is surprising me, and I thought I’d seen just about everything when it comes to blogging.

  • http://www.richarddowens.com sselfless

    Twitter will wilt away unless they implement some of the features you describe here. Others have pointed out the utility of Tweetdeck, but…!

    The third party software can’t do it all yet, they’re merely a glimmer of hope, not the top-to-bottom redesign needed for hope for Twitter to continue.

    The fact of the matter is this: Twitter was created with a flawed premise, The “What are you doing now?” model was destined to fail, as no one actually cares what you’re doing, and if they did the platform was all wrong for that type of information distribution. So….!

    They’re survival has since depended on third-parties and users to create some semblance of a valuable experience, which is giving up control, they will fail.

    Hope I’m wrong though, I enjoy the information overload.

  • http://www.richarddowens.com sselfless

    Also, check out Qwitter, a helpful utility that emails users when others stop following their feed.

    This is another example of others doing the work for Twitter, and their loss of control of their own monster.

  • Darren

    @selfless: well said.

    I did try Qwitter for about a week, but didn’t have the heart (or desire) to monitor whether or not people quit the feed. My livelihood thankfully doesn’t depend on that level of popularity — I’m happy if people follow my feed and perfectly understanding if they don’t.

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  • Bob mac

    do any of you have a wife or children?

  • http://www.premiumsafelist.com Publicidad Gratis

    Oh well, this is something i haven’t even started to do yet.

    I don’t use twitter and i feel like a freak.
    Am i missing something?

  • Jimmy

    Totally agree with you–Twitter is a heaping helping of narcissism and confusion. What interests me most, though, is wondering where the founders will take it. Will they really try to innovate and do some of the things you and others have mentioned? Or will they just try grow the user base and cash out before it stops being trendy? Interesting.

  • http://www.category4.com/ Matt

    Test.

  • Matt

    Test 2.

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  • http://www.hayatimiz.net domuz gribi

    This is another example of others doing the work for Twitter, and their loss of control of their own monster.

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