Three Simple Things Twitter Should Do to Improve the User Experience

Twitter-Logo-150x150As everyone who reads this blog knows, I run hot and cold on Twitter.  On the one hand, I just don’t  get what’s so magical about trying to have a conversation in a what amounts to a public chat room often inhabited by a horde of spammers. MLM’ers and self-promoters.  I didn’t like chat rooms in the nineties, and I don’t see the appeal now.  On the other hand, a lot of my friends really love Twitter, and I have been wrong before (about Facebook, among other things).

So I keep trying to figure out how to use and enjoy Twitter.  During this process, I came up with three simple things that would greatly improve the Twitter user experience.  Without further adieu, here are three things that Twitter should do right now, today, that would help me and a lot of other people use and enjoy Twitter more.

1. Escalate the Spam Battle

I can’t give you numbers, but I am confident that a large number of the people who follow me in any given day or week are doing so only in the hopes that I’ll follow them back so they can turn around and send me some sort of spam.  MLM crap, outright scams, you name it.  I am equally confident this is the case for other people as well.

Twitter should fight the spam fight for us, or at least give us better tools to fight it ourselves.

Sure, you can send a spam report off into the ether.  I have reported a number of users for spam.  Maybe some action has been taken on some of them, but you can’t prove that by me.  Twitter should value the quality of its network- not just the quantity- and take a stand against spam.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a story about Twitter’s efforts to reduce the spam that runs rampant on its network.

But make no mistake.  There are ways to fight spam.

One of the most effective ways would be to take a page from the message board book and appoint a class of community “moderators” (call them whatever you want) who volunteer to monitor the network for bad behavior and who are empowered to take action against it.  Sure, you have to clearly define what is grounds for action, and you have to err on the side of allowing content, but I can tell you from experience that it can be done.  Cheaply and effectively.

Why hasn’t Twitter done this, or something similar?  The cynic in me says the developers are too busy reading their own press.  But maybe I’m wrong about that too.

I hope so.

2. Allow Embedded Media

This is something Pownce did years ago, and Facebook and Google Buzz do now.  You don’t have to host the files.  You just need a way for people to link content and allow others to hear or see it in line, right there on Twitter.

Some will want to play the copyright card, but if you aren’t hosting the content, I see that argument as a canard.

And even if someone who matters at Twitter thinks this is a bad idea, I don’t think Twitter has a choice.  Why? Because other services are doing it.  Twitter has all the mindshare right now, but as we’re seeing with all the Buzz hoopla this week, things can change.

Spam might kill Twitter.  The failure to stay feature competitive would, for sure.

3. Better Subscription Management

I try to keep up with my inbound and outbound Twitter follows, and in this regard let me give a mighty shout out to and recommendation of Topify.  If you don’t use it, you should. In fact, Twitter should buy Topify and make it part of the core Twitter code.  It’s that good.

Even with Topify, it’s inexplicably difficult to manage your Twitter follows and followers.  There’s no way to mass unfollow people, for example.  There are some services that try (or used to try) to provide this sort of thing (Your Twitter Karma, for example), but Twitter doesn’t like them, and has taken the position that some of them violate Twitter’s terms of service.

Here’s the problem with that.  Why is it OK for spammers to follow 999 people a day, unfollow them and then spam them, but there’s no way for a user to generate a list of people they follow and choose (e.g., by uncecking a box) which ones to unfollow?  Stated another way, why doesn’t Twitter allow us to manage our subscriptions any way we want?

Sure, you can unfollow people via the list of people you follow (click on the “following” link below your photo), but the list doesn’t easily tell you if the person follows you.  You can figure it out by clicking the Actions button and looking to see if you have the ability to DM the person (yes, they follow you; no, they don’t).  But why does it have to be this hard?

Last night, I decided to browse my follows and remove obvious spammers and most of the people I follow who aren’t major media writers and don’t follow me back (you know, my Pink Floyd policy).  This should have taken 60 seconds, but it took forever, because I had to find this list via FriendOrFollow, and then unfollow people one at a time.

Note: my Pink Floyd policy is not absolute.  There are plenty of people I find interesting enough to follow, regardless of whether they follow me.


Another  problem: there are a ton of people who follow me, that I don’t follow back.  My general Twitter approach is to follow back anyone who follows me who (a) has more than a few posts, and (b) isn’t an obvious spammer or  MLM’er (Topify makes this pretty easy by including recent posts in the new follow email notice).  But, again, I come and go with Twitter, and I get behind.  There are tons of people who follow me that I’d like to follow back.  But I don’t have time to visit each person’s profile and decide whether to follow or not.

Twitter makes this a little easier by showing whether you you follow your followers (the “followers” link below your photo).  This is clearly designed to encourage following and to discourage unfollowing.  Why?

You should be able to slice and dice your follows, any way you want.

Users should have access to a page with profile information and a box that can be checked or unchecked to follow or unfollow people.  Candidly, I can’t conceive of why there isn’t something like this already.

That’s it.  Three simple things that would vastly improve the Twitter experience.  For me, and for everyone else.

14 thoughts on “Three Simple Things Twitter Should Do to Improve the User Experience

  1. I don't understand why they don't allow users to compare their followers to another user like the “Friends in Common” feature on Facebook. That would make it very easy to tell how someone might be connected to you or how they found out about you. Also, how about the basic ability to sort your followers or follows alphabetically in the Twitter interface? What a pain it is to have to search through them based on when they started following you or vice versa.

  2. Agreed. I am amazed by the lack of features and consistency in so many of these apps. It seems to me like Twitter would have the funds and incentive to write better code, all the way around. Same with Google Apps- ugly, inconsistent and disjointed. There must be more to it on a large scale like that, because from a front end perspective, it would be pretty simple to vastly improve these apps.

  3. I saw your Tweet last night, and that's what got me thinking about cleaning my follows. If it will do the un-follow thing- I missed it. Serves me right for not paying closer attention.

  4. I looked at Truetwit- it looks interesting, but I don't want that sort of solution, where there's a service in between me and other users. I also looked at Twitcleaner. It gives good intel, but I don't think it will sort (e.g., separate) those you follow who don't follow you back (it looks like you'd have to make the ones who do invisible and then unfollow). That's a step in the right direction, but not exactly what I'm looking for.

  5. I don't agree with point 2. I guess twitter knows how to market.. that's why they become so big. No media, no long text.. just short text messages. Smart marketing strategy….

  6. What's the difference in Twitter having an integrated player, like I'm suggesting, vs using all the third party solutions that are currently being used? You'd have the same thing- short texts with links. The only difference would be that media links would play in a local, probably pop-up player.

  7. My pleasure. Great, useful app.You guys make this pretty easy now. About the only thing I can think of would be to show how many mutual friends you have with the new follow. That would let us crowd source our credentialing.

  8. The mere fact that all of these 3rd party sites exist is proof that the demand is there. It seems obvious that building a business that adds features to an existing business should be a bad idea, as Twitter could make all of these sites obsolete with a stroke of the code brush, yet they don't. So we'll continue to use tools like Seesmic, Brizzly, and all of these follower analysis tools to do what they should already be doing.

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