Re-imagining Twitter

How Chris Sacca’s 8,500 word essay on what Twitter can be, made me rethink the product I used to love.
Re-imagined Twitter design for iOS.

I have a confession to make. I manage a digital communications agency and I don’t use Twitter. I used to use it years ago — almost to the point of addiction. I still maintain an account, but only because I love having my real name as my handle, and because I need to occasionally check in on something for a client.

I’ll retweet things when friends ask me to, but that’s really about it.

Today, I cringe when I think of Twitter.

Twitter’s fire hose approach has created an unfriendly monster that has become super noisy and less relevant to me (the user) at any given point in time. The platform’s growth has spurned a culture of passive observance by the many, and ruthless manipulation by the few.

I had all but given up on Twitter until the other day when Chris Sacca posted his 8,500 word article on what Twitter can be.

His article made me think about how Twitter can be re-imagined, and how it could conceivably recreate the internet on mobile.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that a re-imagined Twitter could piece together many of the fragmented ways we consume content, get information and experience the world around us.

Below are a collection of screens and ideas I’ve designed for re-imagining Twitter. These ideas are inspired by Chris’ comments and my own personal experience using the platform. My goal is to further the conversation on how Twitter can become better, more friendly and more relevant to casual and power users alike.


Evolution of the tweet and moving beyond it

The tweet has evolved dramatically since Twitter’s inception. The building block of the tweet concept started off as 140 characters to share whatever thought you had with the world. It was great and I loved it.

But then a lot of things started happening that made the tweet an inflexible container in a world of richer and richer content. More users and better hardware meant more people trying to jam more things that were no longer 140 characters of text into a container designed for 140 characters of text.

Over time, a combination of 3rd party services (URL shorteners, image hosting, etc…) and Twitter’s own product evolution, addressed these challenges and the tweet evolved into what it is today.

For all the evolution the tweet has gone through as a container for content, little has been done to re-imagine how content itself is thought of and treated hierarchically and contextually.

Today’s solution feels like it is better addressing how to stuff more into a tweet, but at the expense of what makes content relevant to the user.

Examples of this are rampant:

  • Tweets that clutter your stream from people you don’t know (or care about) because they were retweeted by someone you follow
  • Tweets that share links without context for what the link contains
  • Tweets that are part of a larger thought or broader conversation with no really easy to understand or view that information in context
  • The same thing being shared by multiple people, making the content feel like spam in your stream
  • A generally content-agnostic approach to the value of a tweet

The only way to solve these problems are to introduce additional concepts that help a user to more visually and intuitively understand how content relates to other content, and why content is important.

I’ve come up with two new containers that could live on the platform in addition to the tweet: Categories and Stories.


Introducing Categories, Stories and a more curated user experience

Conceptual redesign of the main screen when a user opens Twitter (and is logged in) on iOS.

There’s a lot going on here, so let’s just get right into it.

The screen above introduces new concepts to the user interface, while maintaining the traditional reverse-chronological stream of “everything” shared by people you follow.

Categories

The first thing you will notice that’s completely new are categories. Categories (and I’m sure there’s better vernacular for this) are essentially streams of tweets and stories (we’ll get into this in a moment), curated by the platform. A user can vertically scroll a category stream to see relevant content, and swipe horizontally to move to a new category.

Introducing new concepts to a product used by hundreds of millions of people requires that original and familiar product concepts remain intact. That’s why the very first category is the following category.

Following retains your original stream, maintaining the core experience for existing users, but in a way that makes the concept better understood by someone who is completely new to the platform.

Completely new to Twitter, don’t have an account, or aren’t following anyone? No problem. Let’s just eliminate this category completely for you and dive you right into another one, which has content that might be interesting, with obvious cues for you to engage.

Stories

The second thing you will notice that’s completely new here are stories. Tweets containing links are automatically stories that can be followed. Following a story is easy and intuitive. Click the button and now that story (a collection of tweets on the same topic) lives in the stories stream in your following category.

Stories on Twitter can pertain to an event in time, or something happening in the world, which many people are discussing. Typically, a story has multiple sources, multiple contributors, multiple types of content, and multiple commentators. Grouping these things together should happen automatically, so a user can dive into all aspects of the story without needing to manually piece it together for themselves.

An example of a category stream displaying a collection of interesting stories on Twitter right now.

The screen above shows the interesting category stream, which is collecting and displaying a stream of stories that are interesting and being heavily discussed on Twitter at the given moment.

Here you can see a story container for Caitlyn Jenner. The story container informs the user that this is interesting worldwide, and that the conversation is happening now. Top sources and content are automatically contained within the story and a top tweet is displayed.

The user can choose to:

  • Follow the story (saving it into their following category for retrieval later)
  • Retweet the top tweet in the story (sharing the story with their followers)
  • See all tweets about this (opening the story up into an expanded stream sorted by top tweets or all tweets)

Don’t like this story or want to mute it for now? Not a problem. Swipe the story away (a la Tinder) and it’s hidden from view for now.

View of an opened story. In this case, the NBA Finals Game 1.

Opening a story gives the user a stream of all tweets and content in that story. This is just like traditional Twitter, but with an easier way of understand how information gets grouped together. The user scrolls the story’s stream, engages with tweets, and can choose to follow users or retweet content in the same way you have always been able to.

You’ll also notice that the prompt to tweet changes when inside of a story. Instead of a generic “what’s happening” prompt, the user is asked to share their opinion of the story. This makes participating in the conversation more intuitive and less daunting.

It also provides a context for authorship of a tweet. I feel that a user is a lot more likely to share their opinion on something that’s interesting to them over tweeting into the ether about the same topic.

Tweets

Tweets remain the fabric of Twitter. They are containers for content, but that content is better understood by the user and platform in relation to other content in other tweets.

The point is that a tweet should contain any type of content, but hierarchy and importance should be determined based on the content itself and not necessarily the tweet.

Accepting this logic opens a world of additional possibilities for making the tweet a more flexible unit. You may have noticed in screenshots above that some tweets have a “stack” under them. Visual cues like stacks can be introduced to help a user establish that there’s “more content like this” to explore, and make it easier to understand when a tweet is a one-off thought vs. when it is part of a larger conversation.

A combination of stacking and retweet counts more intuitively address importance without breaking the time-based hierarchy of a stream.


Content that is relevant to the user in time and place

The last thing I want to touch on in this post is how Twitter can tailor content to become more relevant to my preferences and where I am.

Categories can and should be added based on what I tend to engage more with, and stories should show up in my feed based on who I follow, what’s really important around the world, and what’s really important to me (based on where I am and what I engage with).

Categories can include things like:

  • Interesting — A stream of stories I’m likely to find interesting based on what’s happening in the world and with the people I follow.
  • Live Events — A stream of stories about things that are happening right now.
  • Toronto (enter your city here) — A stream of stories that are about my city and / or the city I’m presently in.
  • News, Tech, Entertainment, etc… — More traditional categories that hopefully are so obvious and intuitive, that we don’t need to go beyond listing them to explain.
  • TV — Pop up a list of stories for all the shows that are on the tube tonight

And lastly, geolocal...

Categories for what I’m doing or where I am

With all it’s data about me and about everyone connected, Twitter should be able to automatically create categories relevant to what I’m doing or where I am.

Say you go to a concert. Twitter should know you’re at that concert when you open the app and add a category for that event to your app. Instantly, you should be able to see all tweets being generated by concert-goers, tweets from the performers, and be able to easily share your experience.

I’m a big F1 fan. Here’s what that experience could look like if I were at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal:

A new category for F1 Montreal automatically pops up in my app because Twitter detects I’m at the race when I open it.

Taking the conventions established above, Twitter creates a category for the event I’m at. Here I can see top tweets from officials, the venue and race participants. I can quickly tap to see all tweets in the stream, and I’m prompted to participate by sharing the view from my seats.


Final thoughts

Twitter can be so much more than it is today without destroying the core product that has created value for hundreds of millions of people.

Introducing a couple of new concepts can make Twitter infinitely more relevant, easier to navigate and easier to digest.

A more relevant and digestible Twitter can make the platform everyone’s first stop for getting information, engaging socially, and experiencing the world around them.