Thursday, 5 September 2013

Why Twitter Should Ditch the Blue Lines

I use HootSuite to access Twitter and as a result it is rare that I visit the Twitter interface. Yesterday I did so and I noticed something that looked very odd to me: blue lines connecting individual tweets. As it turns out, this is Twitter's new way of viewing conversations. Quite simply, most or all (if it is brief enough) of the tweets in a conversation are displayed together, linked by these blue lines, and in chronological order. It is unclear at the moment whether this is a permanent change or if it is simply an experiment Twitter is performing. Some people had the blue lines, only to have them to disappear and be replaced by the old way of viewing conversations. Others had different coloured lines from blue. Regardless, after reading several news articles on this new way of viewing Twitter conversations as well as doing an advanced search on Twitter, I learned that the vast majority of Twitter users hate the blue lines. I have to count myself among them.

From my standpoint there are two basic problems with Twitter's new way of viewing conversations. The first is that the Twitter has always been displayed in strict reverse chronological order. Twitter's new way of viewing conversations is in chronological order. This means that one will be reading his or stream in the usual reverse chronological order, only to hit groups of tweets (that is, conversations) that are in chronological order every so often. This is confusing enough for an experienced Twitter user such as myself. I can imagine how it would be for someone totally new to Twitter. It could discourage them from using Twitter entirely.

The second problem with Twitter's new way of viewing conversations is that it disrupts the stream. One will be reading one's stream only to have it interrupted by several tweets linked by a blue line. To me this makes the stream harder to read. The old way of viewing conversations, where one could simply click the "View Conversation" link beneath a tweet to do view a conversation, is much more user friendly and does not disrupt the stream at all.

It is for those reasons that I think it would be a mistake for Twitter to go forward with this new way of viewing conversations. While many have theorised that Twitter may see it as a way to attract new users, I think it would have the exact opposite effect. It would only serve to confuse new users and ultimately drive them away. For a company with an IPO coming up, this is hardly desirable. As it is changes to the interface have already driven some experienced users (I have no idea how many) to Twitter clients other than Twitter itself. I started using HootSuite as my Twitter client of choice after Twitter did away with the separate stream for "retweets". I can imagine that many more users would desert the Twitter interface for HootSuite, Twitscoop,Tweetie, and so on if they go forward with this new way of viewing conversations.

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