Thursday, February 16, 2012

New New Twitter is a Total #Fail

Since Twitter was introduced in 2006, the microblogging service has become an important part of the internet. Indeed, for many it has become  a combination chat client, information service, and news source (limited though it may be) for many. There can be no doubt that much of the reason for Twitter's success was its combination of simplicity and its functionality. This is also probably the reason why Twitter changed only a very little in the first few years of its existence. Perhaps the biggest change came in September 2010, when Twitter introduced a new interface that would become known as "New Twitter."

While there were those who preferred "Old  Twitter" to "New Twitter," even its harshest critics would have to admit that "New Twitter" retained much of the original's functionality, even if it lost some of its simplicity. Sadly, changes would eventually be made that would reduce "New Twitter's" functionality. In November 2011 Twitter replaced its mentions tab and its retweets tab with a single @username tab that combined mentions and retweets all together in one stream. Many users, who preferred to see their mentions and retweets sought workarounds from Greasemonkey scripts and Chrome extensions that restored the retweets tab to simply bookmarking the URL that contained their retweets stream (it was the address!/search/realtime/include%3Aretweets%20OR%20via%20%40YourUserName). Unfortunately, this month would see Twitter change its interface once more, this time sacrificing virtually every bit of remaining functionality the Twitter interface had.

Dubbed "New New Twitter" by many (including myself), this new interface was introduced in December 2011. This week it has been forced upon everyone who uses the Twitter interface, much to the dismay of many. Quite simply, "New New Twitter" could be the absolute worst redesign of any website, even MySpace and Faceback (which is saying a lot).  Twitter has not only lost the simplicity it once had, but most of its functionality it had as well.

The change that users will immediately notice from "New Twitter" to "New New Twitter" is that the sidebar, which was always on the right hand side, is now on the left hand side. This has caused enough distress among Twitter users that there are already Greasemonkey scripts and Chrome extensions in existence that move the sidebar back to the right side. While this change is admittedly cosmetic and really doesn't affect the functionality of the site, the fact is that after years of the sidebar being on the right most tweeters are used to it being there. The fact that it was suddenly on the left side in "New New Twitter" was somewhat jarring.

Of course, if the migration of the sidebar to the left side was the only change Twitter had made to its interface, I rather suspect users might not mind it so much. The fact is that "New New Twitter" has a whole slough of problems that make it much less functional than any previous version of Twitter. Among these is the fact that not only did Twitter move the sidebar, they also moved the tweet box (I don't know if that is the technical term, but it is the box that one composes his or her tweets in).  While it had been at the top in all of the previous versions, it is now on the sidebar (which is on the left side).  Worse yet, the tweet box is much smaller, making it more difficult to see the tweet one is composing. In moving the tweet box from the top off to aside, Twitter has essentially made it more difficult to tweet (which is, after all, the whole purpose of Twitter).

Shockingly, changing the position of the tweet box is only one of the more minor flaws of "New New Twitter." Now instead of an @username tab and a retweets tab, there is a Connect button. Clicking on the Connect button takes one to a page where one can see Interactions (one's mentions, retweets, and notices of being followed all jumbled together) or Mentions (which is only the mentions). Worse yet, the old workaround of going directly to the retweets url (!/search/realtime/include%3Aretweets%20OR%20via%20%40YourUserName) no longer works. When one goes there he or she sees (yes, that's right) his or her mentions, retweets, and notices of being followed all jumbled together. Whether Twitter realises this or not, this greatly reduces the functionality of the interface. Those of us whom one might call "Power Tweeters" can get well over twenty mentions in one day and sometimes nearly as many retweets. It then becomes very difficult to keep track of one's mentions and retweets if they are all combined in one stream. I much preferred it when there was a separate tab for mentions and a separate tab for retweets, and I suspect most tweeters share my preference. If they did not, I rather suspect the workaround discussed above would never have come into being, nor the Greasemonkey scripts and Chrome extensions.

The jumbling together of mentions, retweets, and notices of being followed  are not the only loss of functionality in "New New Twitter." One's direct messages and lists are now hidden in a drop down menu located towards the top right. That's right--two of the most important and popular features of Twitter are now harder to reach! Indeed, on the "New New Twitter" interface one has to check one's direct messages regularly to even know if he or she has messages! This is an example of  how "Old Twitter" was far superior to "New New Twitter." On "Old Twitter" not only were one's direct messages and lists easily accessible, but one could easily tell when he or she had a new message.

Twitter has added one new feature in New New Twitter that previous versions did not have. Sadly, it is not particularly useful. The #Discover button is a variation on the Activity tab Twitter had added to New Twitter in November 2011. The only difference between the Activity Tab and the #Discover tab is that while the Activity tab only displayed the activities of one's friends (if they followed someone new or favourited a tweet), the #Discover tab also displays news stories (none of which I found interesting).  Quite simply, the #Discover button occupies valuable web real estate that could be taken up by much more useful, much more desirable, separate Mentions and Retweets tabs while offering the user nothing particularly useful in return.

While there are some who like "New New Twitter," the reaction of most tweeters I know has been largely negative. A hashtag search for #newtwitter reveals that reaction to New New Twitter has been mixed to say the least. About a fourth of the tweets say something along the lines of "I love #newtwitter." The other three fourths of the tweets range from simply "I hate #newtwitter" to, well, things I cannot repeat on a PG-13 rated blog. It would seem that a majority of tweets hate "New New Twitter" and I rather suspect they hate it for the flaws I pointed out above.

The fact that "New New Twitter" seems to be a very unwelcome change among most users makes me wonder if Twitter even knows how people use the service. I think I can speak for myself and most of my fellow tweeters when I say that we do not go to Twitter to "discover" news stories (there is Google News and Yahoo News, not to mention numerous newspapers and TV outlets, for that) or snoop on what our friends are doing on Twitter. We go to Twitter to send and receive information--to microblog. Given that fact, seeing which tweets are retweeted is of much more importance than "discovering" news stories one can easily find elsewhere. After all, retweets can be used as a gauge as to what is popular, what one's followers might like to see tweeted the most. Mentions are a means of communicating with other tweeters, as well as another gauge of what is popular. In the end retweets and mentions are two of the most useful tools a tweeter can have. Given that many of us can get several mentions or several retweets on any given day, it would be very handy to be able to see mentions and retweets in their own separate streams!

I have read from more than one source that Twitter wants people to use its interface instead of the many Twitter apps that are out there for PCs, Macs, and the various phones. Sadly, I think with "New New Twitter," Twitter has achieved the exact opposite. They have insured that their users will flock to the various, other Twitter apps out there, many of which allow uses to see their retweets and mentions in separate streams and provide easy access to messages and lists. I know for myself that the moment "New New Twitter" replaced "New Twitter" on my computer last night that I went straight to HootSuite (which I have always used to schedule tweets) and I have been using it ever since. I know of at least one other person who switched to HootSuite since "New New Tweeter" was forced upon us as well. I rather suspect that many who were not previously using Twitter apps other than the Twitter interface are doing so now. Indeed, I have to wonder if this week HootSuite, Seesmic, Echofon, and the many other apps out there for computers and phones have not seen a surge in their number of users. Somehow I do not think this is what Twitter had in mind.

It is hard to say how Twitter will react to the negative reaction to "New New Twitter." After the @username tab and Activity tab replaced the mentions tab and the retweets tab last year, they took no steps to restore the retweets tab even though there were demands from many users that they do so. It seems possible then that Twitter will ignore users' complaints about "New New Twitter" and it will remain  lacking in functionality and inferior to nearly every other Twitter app in existence. That having been said, if Twitter notices that usage of its native interface has dropped dramatically, which I suspect it will, they might well make changes to "New New Twitter" or simply do away with it entirely. I hope that this is the case. Personally, I would like to see the return of "Old Twitter," with its mentions and retweets tabs, and direct messages that are easily accessible or at least a return of  "New Twitter" with separate mentions and retweets tabs. I rather suspect I am not alone.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I agree with so much of what you say here! The tiny Tweet box on the left and the absence of a Retweet tab particularly make me nuts. It's so annoying how these online services change things just because they *can*, rather than for true improvements in functionality.

Best wishes,