Twitter. See what’s happening.
Twitter is a micro-blogging service which allows users to send and read news and status updates called “tweets”.
Twitter was created based on the concept of allowing users to keep their friends informed though short status updates (Ferriss 2011). It was intended to create a sense of connection among friends, like they were right there with them throughout their day (Carlson 2011).
Considered the “SMS of the internet” (D’Monte 2013), Twitter was originally designed for user to compose a 140 character maximum text message and send it to a phone number that would widely distribute the message to their “followers” — any Twitter users that subscribed to the author’s account. At an early point in development, the entire service ran on a laptop using a Verizon Wireless card (Carlson 2011).
Twitter’s first major contribution as a news sharing platform was the quick and wide spread account of a small earthquake in San Francisco. This kicked Twitter to the forefront of people’s minds, pushing their numbers well into the thousands (Carlson 2011). Today there are 328 million users sending 500 million tweets per day (Aslam 2017).
Throughout this quarter, I worked with a collection of books, designing modules for data display in a consistent and user-friendly way. Twitter has essentially done the same, continuously collecting new contributions from their users. The Twitter system identifies and tracks contributed information, displays it, and relates it to other contributions, similar to how my book collection pulled information from an outside source, displayed it, and related it to other books. Though the data, characteristics, collection method, and design are different, the concept is the same.
Twitter readers are not required to have accounts, but anyone looking to add content through tweets must log in. Twitter collects data on all registered users. The key data points for the purposes of Information Architectures are (Twitter 2017):
- User Name — user defined
- Handle— alias unique to each user and used as an identifier for all content associated with the user
- Favorites Count & Archive
- Tweet Count & Archive
- Followers Count & List
- Friends Count & List
- Listed Count & List
- Moments Count & List
- Verification Status
- Bio — optional user defined UTF-8 describing the account
- Geolocation — optional user defined location
This data is displayed on each users profile page within Twitter. The format of each profile is identical, with user name and handle as the prominent information along the side bar. A navigation bar at the top of the page allows profile viewers to see the count of each content type and, once selected, the list associated with that type.
A tweet is a post on the Twitter platform — the basic atomic building blocks of Twitter. The original format of this user shared content was a text message of 140 characters or less. Today, the character limit is up to 280 and emojis, photos, GIFs, videos, polls, geolocation tags, and links can all be included in tweets. The fundamental attributes of the status updates are (Twitter 2017):
- ID — unique identifier for the tweet
- User — the object that represents the author of the status update, including user name and handle
- Created Date — when the tweet was created
- Text — the UTF-8 text of the status update
The basic tweet structure is a module box that shows the user picture, name, and handle with the tweet content below and the counts and icons for comments, retweets, favorites, and the messages. This is similar to the module structure used to create the book listings in the book collection.
A tweet object can also contain several child objects which might have these components (Twitter 2017):
- Entities — aspects that have been parsed out of the text of a tweet (hashtags, URLs, mentions, symbols, polls, etc.)
- Extended Entities — media content parsed out of the text of a tweet (photos, video, GIF)
- Place — geotag
- In Reply to Status ID — if the represented tweet is a reply tweet, this would be the ID of the original tweet
- In Reply to User ID — if the represented tweet is a reply tweet, this would be the original tweet’s author ID
Though these additional objects do not alter the basic structure of the architectural tweet appearance, they do add additional content for users to reference and better understand the objective of the tweet. When a tweet is retweeted, this is indicated with an icon and the original contributor’s handle. When a tweet contains entities such as hashtags, media, or mentions, they are highlighted with different formatting (blue text or picture/video boxes).
Twitter allows for personalized content by granting users the ability to select who they follow and who can view their posts. At its creation, Twitter was intended to share status updates with friends. Though this was novel, it was not useful enough to maintain user interest. To stay relevant, Twitter needed to evolve.
By providing live update capability and a strict character limit, Twitter made itself a platform for breaking news snippets. Without being flooded with the long posts, users could quickly browse updates. With amassive user base, first-hand sources can break news without having publishers censor content (Sharma 2017). By evolving to include retweet capabilities, news spread at a faster rate (Sharma 2017). Through Twitter, users can connect to strangers, people previously thought of as unreachable (journalists, celebrities, politicians, and athletes). Having access to a more global network allows for news to spread more actively and is an incentive to utilize Twitter over a network such as Facebook, which is geared more toward close, personal relationships.
As a way to maintain relevance, Twitter officially adopted the hashtag as a metadata grouping mechanism in 2009, making everything that appears after a pound sign (#) a link to all other tweets with the same tag (MacArthur 2016). A hashtag can help direct a tweet toward a specific audience of interest or demonstrate that it is related to a specific topic. Creating niches or impromptu communities with hashtags makes Twitter more customizable (Sharma 2017). This piece of metadata also allows for more effective and efficient searches and navigation within the platform. Similarly, mentions or replies to a specific Twitter user by preceding their user handle with the at sign (@) creates a metadata link so that the handle is clickable but also so that the user being addressed can be made aware of the tweet (Twitter 2017).
Twitter has also opened up it’s content capabilities with photos, videos, URLs, etc. in order to keep up with other social media platforms. In 2014 they added the capability for multiple photos to be included in a single tweet without encroaching on the strict character limit of the tweet (Estes 2014). Twitter began to group and curate trending tweets into what they called moments in 2015 and in 2016 they opened up the ability to create moments to the public (Read 2016). All of these additions were aimed toward remaining relevant.
One of the most valued and feared aspects of Twitter is the ability to receive instant feedback. Tweet a company a question and they may respond to you instantly, like Elon Musk does frequently when asked about Tesla. However, share your political opinion and be prepared for an avalanche of both positive and negative responses. Putting yourself out into the world of strangers has benefits and drawbacks.
Twitter is viewed by some as difficult to use. Even Twitter’s executive chairman, Omid Kordestani, said, “ I did find [Twitter] challenging to use at times and intimidating to use” (Kelly 2016). It can be overwhelming because of the massive amount of content available, but the structure seems to be focused. Here’s how it works.
The Twitter homepage allows straightforward navigation. They offer a log in or sign up option and the ability to browse or search content through keyword searches or by subject.
Once logged in, Twitter arranges data with the most recent tweets by the user’s “follow” list at the top of the screen. Older tweets are listed chronologically down the page. Recommendations trending topics and who to follow are available based on user preferences and trending topics of interest. Users can easily contribute data by populating the “What’s happening?” entry bar at the top of the screen.
Each page has a header navigation providing additional ease of use. Users can move from checking their personal messages to searching Twitter content for a specific hashtag and back to their home page with a few clicks. It is easy to post new tweets at any time by clicking the “Tweet” button, producing a pop-up window for tweet composition.
From its transition to a web based service in late 2006 (Widrich 2011) to the launch of Moments, Twitter has evolved by reevaluating, reinventing, and reinvesting in itself to become a better service for its users. It has tested concepts to improve the information architecture of the service with some success and failure. Adding hashtags was a big win for the company. Adding the Explore tab (a content organization scheme) was not (which is why no one knows what it is). Moving forward, there is a plan to continue development through user recommendations. One recommendation Twitter is currently trying to implement is adding a bookmarking feature (Perez 2017). This will impact the IA by adding a new organizational option in the data. Bookmarking will set aside tweets for later consumption, as opposed to simply expressing a feeling towards them through “liking.”
Twitter has grown by keeping its content organized and continuously improving usability, progressing from a texting service for status updates to a real-time social media resource for news, entertainment, and communication.
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