Thoughts on Twist

At Mendelics we've been using Slack for a couple of years now. Even though we love it, it does take a toll on everybody due to the need for constant attention. Our culture does not demand us to be online all the time and many of us don't check Slack outside our working hours but it does put pressure on a few members of our team.

The arrival of Twist got us interested and yesterday we got into the beta. From our almost 60 people on Slack, only around 15 got into Twist. Almost all of us software developers with a few members of different teams.

The initial experience felt a bit awkward, much due to adaptation to a new form of communication. Twist sits somewhere in between e-mail and realtime chat and it's easy to try to apply old habits to the new platform. Don't do that, kids.

Creating channels and threads was very simple and easy, several different threads were born in the first few minutes using the app. The focus on threads is a big selling point for Twist and it works. Different topics in the #General channel (why does it have a capital G?) started living in their own threads and the conversations started happening without getting mixed together as it's common on Slack.

One of the first "pain points" was the use of cmd+enter instead of enter to send new messages. Twist encourages multiline messages instead of multiple messages and it felt weird at first. After a few more hours of chatting with Twist it started to make more sense. It isn't very clear to a new user why it is this way, though. It is by design, time to get used to it.

Another weird thing was how names were abbreviated in the web interface. My name, for example, showed up as Vitor D. although it was complete in the settings as Vitor De Mario. That will change soon but it's not clear how this is going to be configured. My suggestion to the Twist team about this is: don't apply any preset formatting to the user name. Let each user control how her own name is shown on screen.

An, lastly, the Notify bar/field/thing/whatever. By default, the notify bar is filled with the last few people who sent messages. It's not clear to me how many messages/people are considered for this auto fill. This notification puts threads in an user's inbox, if I understood correctly.

The original twist blog post talks a lot about avoiding interruptions and the notification bar felt opposite to this idea. I'm not sure yet how this works, it seems it only sends threads to the inbox and nothing more. It might be fine. It might only be a replacement to the @ username idiom. I'm not sure, it felt confusing to me and not clear how this was supposed to work.

One of the first things I did was to clear the notify bar, letting it empty. This can be done but, at least in the web interface, the app asks me for confirmation every time I send a new comment on a thread with "Notify: Nobody". Wasn't this supposed to be the new normal? No notifications, just a comment on a thread, people can see it on their own time? Feels like I'm missing something.

All of this out of the way, however, Twist was a very positive experience. Different topics were created by the Mendelics team very easily, without interference from one conversation to another. It still feels a bit rough right now but that's expected. The new user experience, specially, is kinda bumpy. There are help topics explaining the concepts but there isn't much inside the app itself. It should get better pretty fast, though:

We're not abandoning Slack yet but we'll keep an eye on Twist and see how it develops. In our second day more mature conversations around bioinformatics, for example, started happening on Twist which is a great sign.

tl;dr: Twist looks very promising, still a bit rough around the edges right now.