Twitter — Ten, Beyond and the Future!
I had no idea that I would be publishing this post on March 21, 2016 — exactly ten years after Twitter started. But that is how things turned out and I am really glad about it. Happy Birthday Twitter and thank you for keeping me informed and entertained for the past 6 years. This post is about new features for Twitter that could increase the user growth and bring back those who left the service.
Before the end of January 2016, four of Twitter’s top executives left the company. One of them went to work for Instagram(a competitor) and one of them to Google. Less than two weeks after that, the company’s Q4 earnings call did not meet expectations and Twitter revealed that the user growth had gone negative for the first time. This sparked a trend among the tech media industry and most of the technology news house published an article about Twitter’s future.
I am a Computer Science graduate student who happens to be very interested in Product Design and User Experience. I have been using Twitter for more than five years and it has become such an integral part of my life. Seeing a product of Twitter’s capability and potential, struggling with user growth, bothers me. So, I decided to do something about it. I gathered articles about Twitter on top blogs and news sites. I read a lot of articles, but narrowed down the list of articles that influenced me most to the following ten articles.
- What Twitter Can Be
- The Solution to the Problem With the Solution to Twitter’s Problems
- Twitter’s Product is F**king Fine
- Twitter’s darkest hour is now
- Twitter has become secret-handshake software
- A Rant About Why Twitter’s Past Failures Make It Nearly Unfixable
- Twitter, to Save Itself, Must Scale Back World-Swallowing Ambitions
- The End of Twitter
- A Response to “The End of Twitter”
- Please Twitter, Just Stay Weird
Among all the articles that I mentioned above, Chris Sacca’s What Twitter Can Be caught my attention because of the depth of his numerous suggestions and ideas for Twitter. Being closely related to(investor in) Twitter, he has written about how powerful and useful Twitter can be. He has written about the features that would help Twitter bring on new users and make others give Twitter another chance. His article was published on June 3 and he had mentioned that favorites should go on to become hearts. And five months later, on November 3, Twitter announced that they were replacing the “favorite” button(star icon) with the “like” button(heart icon). That should validate the credibility of his writing.
Among the numerous ideas and suggestions that he has for Twitter, a strategy that I found to be particularly interesting is that Twitter break up its new features into separate apps. I agree with the idea of separate Twitter apps but I think it would be great if Twitter left the current app as it is for the existing users(power users who have found their way through to putting the current features of Twitter to good use) and create a new Twitter app for the new users(includes those who have tried the service but never really came back). The new Twitter app would have the new algorithmic timeline, Moments and all the new features that Chris had mentioned in his articles — Events, Channels and “Vault”. I would also like Twitter to resurface their Lists feature.
There are lots of features and talking points in the article, but I decided to focus my attention on what I think could be Twitter’s biggest strength — live real-time information. There is absolutely no equal to Twitter when it come to live events and real-time information regarding any topic. I am a huge cricket fan and each time I watch a match, I make sure that I have Twitter open either on my phone or on my laptop. This is because I love the experience of watching the match along with others on Twitter. I am sure this is a common feeling among other people too. However, not everybody has the same experience as their timeline is populated with Tweets only from the accounts they follow. Everybody has their own interests and hence follow a different set of accounts. So, in order to bring a singular experience during an event, Chris Sacca wrote about a product feature called Twitter Live Events. I took my time to study the current Twitter experience, the features that it offers and created a sketch of what I thought the feature might look like.
Events is a filtered feed of Tweets related to a topic, populated with Tweets from accounts related to the event and curated by a combination of algorithm and human curators. Events could be initially created by Twitter for popular events across the globe like — Oscars, SuperBowl, FIFA World Cup Finals, etc. An algorithm will populate the feed with popular content from the accounts selected for the event along with other popular tweets (high number of retweets, quotes and likes) related to the event. Human curators will monitor the algorithmic feed and add/remove a tweet depending on its value. Accounts related to the event can include people associated with the event, popular commentary accounts, parody accounts, popular Twitter celebrities who tweet about the subject of the event. At first, curators for an event on Twitter could be editors from a media house related to the subject and later on, Twitter can rope in popular show hosts to curate the Event feed. When an event is curated by popular show hosts, they can add their comments as quoted tweets as well making the experience even better. Twitter Events curation could actually go on to become a job. This feature would be great not only for the new users, but also for the existing ones. I strongly believe that this experience of watching an event and seeing it unfold on Twitter will be something new and refreshing.
Twitter could easily monetize Events by roping in sponsors for the events and meticulously adding relevant promoted tweets to the Event feed in a way that it does not hamper the user experience.
The next big thing that Chris mentions in his article is Channels. Channels are tweet streams grouped together by a topic. These Channels are algorithmically generated based on #hashtags and if needed, a human editor could curate the contents as needed. Twitter doesn’t have an option to let users follow hashtags yet(although it allows you to save your #hashtag based search). Following a channel could be the closest to following a #hashtag. Channels are created based on topics, locality and relevance. When you follow a channel, you get the best tweets related to the topic of the channel. And Channels are not reverse chronologically sorted.
Since Channels are topic based, it becomes very easy to monetize the Channel feed. Related promoted tweets could be featured in the Channel feed. And companies wanting to build #hype can easily do so by promoting a related Channel.
Channels and Events could exist alongside the main Timeline and can be accessed by swiping left/right on the Timeline heading or by 3D Touching the Home button.
One thing that Chris does not talk about in his article is Twitter Lists. Twitter Lists is a feature that has been there in Twitter for a long time, but has never really caught on. This may be one of the reasons that Twitter has buried this under the “Settings” icon in the “Me” Tab. I tried to use Twitter lists in the beginning when I was new to Twitter, but never really understood why I had to use Lists. Even now I do not use Twitter lists because I have been on Twitter long enough and my TL doesn’t feel intimidating and exhausting to me anymore. However this is not the case for a new user. I agree with Chris when he talks about how a single feed of diverse topics can be intimidating for the new users and this is where a list could be helpful. One of the reasons why Lists aren’t as famous as they should be is because there are no popular lists and even if there are excellent lists, it is almost impossible to find them. Twitter could add ways to make discovering lists easier and also bring lists to the bottom navigation bar.
Lists can be the same as they are today — a Twitter feed with reverse chronologically sorted Tweets from accounts specifically selected by the user. Since Lists are user generated, there may not be a coherency among the Tweets and hence targeted Ads may not work with Lists.
One of the main reasons I use Twitter is for live commentary on real-time news. A great perk of this is that I find links to great articles which would otherwise be difficult. When I use an Android phone, I use “Brave” browser to open the link, skim through it and quickly add it to Pocket app. When I am on iOS, the experience is similar, but the Twitter app opens up a tab and I have to add the article to my Pocket only from that tab. This is great for articles that I would read later, but what if I want to check it out later? I am sure most of us find links, images, videos on Twitter that we would like to come back to. Users on Twitter had found ways to make this happen by using the favorite button. People I know used to favorite tweets with links and use IFTTT to get those links in their Pocket app. Also, Pocket has a brilliant Chrome plugin that adds a neat Add to Pocket icon to each Tweet(with a link) on the Twitter webpage. The icon merges with seamlessly with the interface and feels quite natural. It is disappointing that we have to rely on a third-party service to help us save the tweets we like. Chris talks about how Twitter has been considering a “Vault” feature that will allow users to save content within Twitter. Twitter could have a small button next to the Reply, Retweet, Like button that would let users save the tweet to their vault and it will be there unless they delete it from their vault.
A simple “Save” button would be great not only for users, but for Twitter as well. Chris explains in detail how Twitter can use the tweets stored in the user’s vault to show relevant promotions to the customers. I am sure this would be implemented in a way that is least obstructive to the user experience. The “Vault” as it is called in his article would just contain all the tweets that a user has saved and can be accessed from the “Me” tab. A user can also choose to make his/her vault private and can choose if he/she wants personalized advertising in the Vault.
This is just a small idea of how fun, useful and powerful Twitter might become. There are lots of other potential and ideas for Twitter. Most of the ideas in this post are taken from What Twitter Can Be article and I would like to thank Chris Sacca for his ideas. If you want to know in-depth about the features discussed here, I suggest you read the above mentioned article.
Disclaimer: I am not associated with Twitter or Chris Sacca in any way. I just found his article on the Internet and decided to bring a few of his ideas to Sketch. I am just getting started with Product Design and I would really appreciate any type of feedback. Thank you for reading :)