Sunday, June 19, 2016

Why HootSuite's New Streams are a Failure

Ever since Twitter dramatically changed their interface in 2012 I have relied upon HootSuite as my Twitter client of choice. Even before then I used HootSuite to schedule tweets. HootSuite had several advantages over Twitter's interface. One could reply to a single person (the individual who originated the tweet) rather than everyone mentioned in a tweet. One could hide inline images. Retweets and mentions appear in separate streams. What is more HootSuite has always had great customer service. Every time I had a problem with HootSuite (which was rare) I could rely upon HootSuite's customer service to help me out. What is more, they are not only prompt, but kind and courteous as well.

Unfortunately just last week HootSuite made what may be the biggest misstep of their existence. They introduced New Streams. In theory New Streams were supposed to be an improvement over the old Streams. In fact a large number of HootSuite users (perhaps the majority of HootSuite users) have expressed outrage at the old Streams being replaced by the New Streams. On both Twitter and HootSuite's feedback page there have been a large number of complaints about the New Streams. Many of the complaints are about the appearance of the New Streams, while a large number are due to a loss of functionality when compared to the old Streams. In fact, there appear to be more complaints about the New Streams than almost anything else in HootSuite's feedback pages in the past two years--this in only a few days time.

The biggest complaint with the New Streams seems to be the size of the New Streams. The old streams were highly customisable, so that one could easily maximise the number of posts one sees. The New Streams only have "Compact", "Standard', and "Comfortable" views, all of which take up more space than the old Streams. Quite simply, even the "Compact" view is not exactly compact! Even with images turned off (as I always do) I can see at most about three to four tweets per stream. This is in stark contrast to the old Streams, where I could see many more.

Part of the problem with the size of the streams in the New Streams comes down to the replacement of the old Streams' drop down menus for "Like", "Assign to", and so on by overly large buttons. The buttons take up far too much space, resulting in users seeing fewer posts per stream. It seems pretty clear to me that many users dislike the buttons and much prefer the drop-down menus for the simple reason that they took up less space and thus maximised the number of posts one could see.

Yet another complaint also arises from the size of the New Streams. In HootSuite one can choose the number of columns of streams that are displayed. I only ever display one, but other users sometimes displayed several. From the many complaints, it would appear now that users are able to view fewer columns than on the old Streams. As an example, a complaint on Twitter from just today was from someone who has three columns set up and could see three columns in the old Streams, but can now only see two columns in the New Streams. As someone who only ever views one column at a time in HootSuite this isn't a problem for me, but many users obviously seem upset about it.

What might be the second biggest complaint is that the New Streams do not give the exact time of a post as the old Streams did. To wit, while the old Streams would give "2:51pm" on a post, the New Streams only give "2 hours ago". This can be problematic for those who frequently schedule posts and really need to know the exact time something will or has been posted. Now one can hover over the timestamp ("2 hours ago") and get the exact time (2:15pm), but it would seem much easier to have the exact time right there on the post to begin with.

Another loss in functionality regards the way in which replies are handled on the New Streams versus the old Streams. In the old Streams when one replied to a tweet, the reply was only to the person who initially made the tweet, not everyone mentioned in it. If someone wanted to reply to everyone mentioned in a tweet, he or she would click the drop-down menu and choose "Reply All". This was particularly useful if one wanted to thank someone for a "Follow Friday" tweet and it came in useful in other circumstances as well. Indeed, it was one of the many advantages the old Streams had over Twitter's interface. Unfortunately, in the New Streams there is no way to reply to only a single person; it is always set to "Reply All". This means that if one wants to reply to only the person who made a tweet and not everyone mentioned in it, he or she will have to highlight every other name and delete them. I would hardly call this an improvement.

Aside from the loss of functionality in the New Streams, there have also been complaints that the New Streams are buggy. I haven't experienced any bugs beyond my Streams changing height (which is simply fixed by clicking on "Compact" again), but I have seen enough complaints on the feedback page and on Twitter to know that the New Streams are not functioning smoothly for many. For some people the streams are being very slow to update and for others they have to refresh to get them to update at all. Yet others have other problems. I have seen complaints that individuals can't retweet anything, people not being able to add lists to their streams, and people not being able to see replies or mentions.

While I do think the New Streams are a big step down from the old Streams and I would be very happy if HootSuite ditched the New Streams and returned to the old Streams, I am not going to stop using HootSuite. To me it is still superior to Twitter's interface and better than most any other Twitter client out there. Unfortunately I am not everybody. I have seen many tweets and even posts on the feedback page from people saying that they are giving up HootSuite in favour of Tweetdeck or even Twitter's interface. Clearly, at least to me, when long-time customers start talking about leaving a product for another product, a very big mistake has been made. I think HootSuite made a huge miscalculation with regards to how the New Streams would be received.

Indeed, on Twitter I have only seen one or two tweets in favour of the New Streams compared to countless numbers of those complaining about them. The feedback page is filled with complaints about the New Streams. A common refrain is that people want the old Streams back. What is more, people are being very specific in their complaints, so it is not simply a case of people disliking change. HootSuite insists that the old Streams will not return in order "to support a smoother transition to upcoming features and improvements." That having been said, I think I can speak for most Hootsuite users when I say that the only features and improvements we want are those that were lost when the change was made from the old Streams (a compact appearance, exact times on posts, the ability to reply to only one person, and so on).

Given the outrage over the New Streams, I think HootSuite really has only two choices. The first (and the one users seem to favour) is to get rid of the New Streams entirely and restore the old Streams. They would probably have to forget any "features and improvements" they have in mind, but at this point I think it would be worth it to keep their users happy. The second is a dramatic makeover to make the New Streams look and behave like the old streams. Replace the buttons with drop-down menus to save space and make posts more compact. Make the size of columns adjustable again. Restore the exact time to posts. Give individuals the ability to reply to only one person in tweets. The downside with this is that it would probably be so much work that it would perhaps be easier to restore the old Streams.

Regardless, it would seem HootSuite has made a serious misstep with the New Streams, to the point that many (if not most) of their users are very angry. It seems clear to me that they are going to have to take action immediately, whether that is bringing back the old Streams or making drastic changes to the New Streams. Either way, if they either do nothing or wait too long to make changes, I worry that HootSuite will lose a very large number of users to other Twitter clients. As someone who has used HootSuite for years and intends to continue using it despite my extreme dislike for the New Streams, I would really hate to see that happen.

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