Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why Twitter's "While You Were Away" Feature Might Be a Big Mistake

For the past several years I have used HootSuite to access Twitter. My reason is that it seems that with each passing year Twitter makes more and more changes that reduce its website's usefulness. I started using HootSuite when they combined the retweets and mentions feeds. Since then Twitter has made yet more changes that make using their website unattractive to me. Twitter changed the way it displays conversations so that they are harder to follow. To make matters worse, only a little later they introduced inline images that cannot be disabled on the website (at least not without a Greasmonkely script or Stylish userstyle). Last year they changed user profiles in such a way that they are ugly and often hard to read unless (you guessed it) modified by a Greasemonkey script or Stylish userstyle. Now it seems Twitter is determined to reduce the usefulness of its website even further.

Quite simply, Twitter has introduced a "while you're away" feature called Recap that will display the "top" three tweets since one last logged into Twitter. Currently Recap is only available on iOS devices, but Twitter plans to roll it out to Android devices and the website eventually. Twitter’s vice president of product, Kevin Weil, claims that the first thing one will see upon opening Twitter will be this quick recap and then Twitter will revert back to its normal content. He also claims this is not a move towards a feed determined entirely by algorithm, such as the one for which Facebook is notorious.

Speaking for myself, Recap sounds like a horrible idea. While I do not visit Twitter often, when I do so I want to see the most recent tweets, not three tweets that Twitter has somehow determined to be "top tweets". To me Recap, much like inline images, is yet another feature that detracts from what I want out of Twitter: a clear, concise, uncluttered feed in strict reverse chronological order.

Of course, I do not think I would be bothered as much by Recap if I knew that Twitter would give us a way to disable it. Unfortunately I am not sure that is likely. Despite the fact that one can disable inline images on the Twitter Android app (and I suspect the iOS app as well), there is as of yet still no option to do so on  the website. I suspect the same case will be true of Recap. I then suspect that individuals will have to rely on a Greasemonkey script or Stylish userstyle to do away with Recap if they do not like it. That is hardly the best way for Twitter to go about doing things.

In the end, like many of the changes Twitter has made the past few years I think Recap could be a big mistake. I have no idea how many Twitter users access Twitter through clients other than Twitter itself, but I know enough people who do so that it is probably a significant number of them. Much like previous changes Twitter has made, I then suspect Recap will drive more people away from the Twitter website itself (or Twitter's mobile apps, for that matter) and to clients such as HootSuite and Tweetdeck. Yet others (although I'm guessing not many) may stop using Twitter all together. It is then to Twitter's advantage to give people a way to disable Recap, not to mention more ways to customise their Twitter experience (such as disabling inline images) over all.  And personally I think it is also to Twitter's advantage to stop making changes, unless it is to restore the site to the way it was in 2009!

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