The Global Town Square.
“We think of [Twitter] as the ‘global town square’…this notion of a very public, live, in-the-moment conversational platform.” — dick costolo, 2013 (former CEO of Twitter Inc.)
I’ve always thought this was the perfect metaphor to describe the aspirations of Twitter. What do you think of when you hear the phrase “town square”? What kind of images does that phrase conjure up in your mind? I think of a small town from the 1700’s somewhere in colonial America filled with a group of townspeople. I think of the word “community”. I also can’t help to think of the word “noise”. I see these townspeople shouting amongst each other drowning out the voices of the collective. People are speaking but they are not being heard.
Unless you’re Barack Obama, Drake, or some other notable figure in society, your voice is probably not being heard on Twitter today.
Community. Twitter is missing a sense of community.
I believe this is the foundational problem with Twitter today and I aim to try to fix that with a concept design for a new product I call Twitter Rooms.
Before we get into it, let’s see how Twitter works today…
The difference between you and Kanye West.
The crux of Twitter is a very simple broadcasting model. Every person on Twitter has a group of other people who follow them, and thus get access to that person’s tweets. They can choose to receive that tweet in almost real-time, or catch up on it at a later time in the future.
Now some people have followers in the millions (Kanye West) and some people just have a few. This significantly influences your experience on Twitter.
The less followers you have, the less incentive you have to actually Tweet…unless the people that follow you have some sort of significance in your life (i.e. family, friends, co-workers).
I could probably write another whole article on why this is the case, but let’s just agree that for the average user, their family, friends, and co-workers don’t use Twitter to communicate with each other because they’re using some other service that starts with an F or something. I know that most of the people reading this are techies, so note that we’re speaking about regular people here. You are the exception, not the rule.
But this is old news and a problem of yesteryear. Let’s speak about today…
Today, Twitter is not a social network, it is an interest network (If Wall St. only understood that, they could stop comparing it to Facebook…but that will be the day). People seek out users who are aligned with their own personal interests. Joe Smith follows Kanye West because he is a hip-hop head, not because he has an actual relationship with Kanye outside of Twitter. Now take Joe Smith and multiply it by a couple of million and you have a model that looks similar to this:
In this first graphic, Kanye West is a “Content Producer”.
What’s a Content Producer?
Exactly what you think they are. They(or it) produce(s) the mass of the content that spreads through Twitter. It doesn’t have to actually just be a person, it can also be a world event like an earthquake, or tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones.
In this second graphic, the followers of the Content Producer begin to spread, or contribute to, the content they were seeded with.
The problem is that most of the tweets from the followers end up going into the ether.
Because most people don’t have a strong following, so they end up going into the abyss of the Twitterverse to never see any real engagement. It’s like you’re in the town square and everyone is yelling over everyone else, so no one really gets heard or acknowledged for what they have to contribute.
This is particularly damaging to the user experience of new users, as they are expecting the level of engagement from say a more intimate experience like Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram.
How can we fix this?
How can we increase engagement amongst users without losing the character of Twitter?
I believe the solution is through community.
Breaking the ice.
The hallmark of a great community is the quality of the conversation between the members of the community. It’s usually centered around the content that brings that community together. A conversation is one of the most engaging experiences you can have on Twitter…but it’s hard.
There are two main reasons for this:
- The 140-character limit: It requires some substantial effort to edit your thoughts and package it up in 140-characters or less. Constructs like the “Tweetstorm” are a result of this. The “@reply to yourself” tweet threading UI hack kind of helps…but it still hides all of the bread and butter of the conversation. Twitter’s UI is simply not compliant to conversations.
- Discovery: Where do I find a conversation? Right now, it’s a direct result of the people I follow. What happens if I’m a new user? Currently, Twitter surfaces me various recognizable users like celebrities and famous brands but they are producers, not engagers. If I tweet at them, they won’t respond. Twitter understands this, and Moments (their new product) is aimed to remedy that by giving you a parallel experience that’s more focused on the content than the actual people you follow. That’s a great first step but I wish there was a way to find more people like myself. I need to find the people from my tribe. The people who have similar interests to me. The people who would actually respond to what I have to say…
Introducing Twitter Rooms.
A Room is a place where you can chat with people, in real-time, about the things you love.
It’s the idea of a chat room supercharged by the existing interest graph that people come to Twitter for today.
Is cooking your passion? Great. It just so happens to be that the other 3 Million people who follow Jamie Oliver are super passionate about cooking as well. You should check out his Twitter Room called “The Kitchen” where you’ll meet other people who are just as crazy about herbs and spices as you are.
Let’s revisit the graphic from before, but now with Rooms as a part of the Twitterverse:
Compare and contrast this with the previous graphic.
Do you see the difference?
Instead of the followers just tweeting out into the ether, they now have a place where they can have a real conversation without the constraints of Twitter proper.
At the same time, all of the potential engagement that was previously lost in the Twitterverse is now being supercharged and concentrated within a room. This is the goal of Rooms…
The goal of Rooms is to infuse Twitter with real community.
Now let’s see how Rooms can potentially look within the Twitter experience today…
What used to be the Messages tab is now tucked away under the Me tab in exchange for the new shiny Rooms tab.
There are three sections in the Rooms feed:
- Following: Much in the same way that I can follow a user, I can now follow Rooms to quickly get access to them in my feed, and maybe receive Tweets that might pertain to all members of that respective room.
2. Tailored: This will be a personalized feed of rooms that Twitter would recommend for you. It will look similar to the Following feed.
3. Popular: This will be a feed of the rooms that are the most popular on Twitter.
Now let’s check out some defining attributes of a Room:
- Anyone can start a room: It doesn’t matter if you’re Barack Obama, BuzzFeed, or Joe the Plumber, everyone has the option to create a room.
- No character limit: You are no longer sending tweets in a room. No more tweets? No more 140-character limit? Blasphemous! More on that later…
- Moderation: This is key. Although we’ve come a long way from the a/s/l days of AOL chatrooms the internet is still chock-full of trolls. There should be a combination of some self-policing amongst the respective members of a community with an option to report people & of course at least one moderator who has power to remove anyone from the room. The moderator will usually be the one who created the room. Does this mean the moderator needs to be present in the room at all times? Absolutely not. There could be an automatic system set up where people who get flagged “x” amount of times by others in the room get removed automatically. There should also be a limit on the amount of messages you can possibly send in say…a minute or two.
- Capacity: Rooms will have a capacity set by the moderator(s). You don’t want to have a situation where there are thousands of people in one room. Things can go haywire fast. I guess 1000 seems like a nice round number to draw the line at? Maybe even a bit too lax.
- Private or Public: You can have the option to start a private room where it’s off the grid. Say you’re part of the Illuminati and you wanted to make sure the room is invite only. You’re in luck! Rooms are secret-society friendly.
Let’s go into one of my favorite rooms — The Meow Room from the good folks at Product Hunt.
The key thing to note is that messages sent in the room are not considered tweets. Thus, there should not be a 140-character limit. In fact, you are actually able to share tweets in a room in the same manner that you are able to in Messages today. You are also able to share links and pretty much anything else that you can tweet today.
But more importantly…
Rooms is designed to shorten the learning curve of Twitter, while offering a familiar experience to the average user.
and is especially great for new users for two reasons:
- Accessibility: This serves as a great way for new users to jump into the conversation on Twitter in a manner that’s easy to understand. There’s no need to tweet. Everyone with an iPhone knows how messaging works. The learning curve is virtually non-existent.
- Networking: Instead of just following the popular accounts on Twitter that never engage with you, you are instead introduced to actual real people that have similar interests to you. Mostly everyone agrees that one of the most difficult things to do on Twitter is finding the right people to follow while constantly curating that list. Rooms aims to short-circuit that process. It jumpstarts you into a network that would otherwise require massive amounts of time and energy to figure out as a new user just by simply offering a gathering place for people with similar interests.
I believe this has the potential to be a game changer for the experience of a new user by laying the foundation to ease them into the core Twitter experience of actually tweeting. They will now have someone to actually tweet at.
I was recently wondering why techies like myself particularly love Twitter.
We use it enthusiastically and are often the first ones to point out a flaw in whatever Twitter is doing wrong on any given day…
I think we do it because we see the power and potential of Twitter and want the rest of the world to see it as well. Many of us formed friendships, jumpstarted our careers, and raised a million dollars off of one of Bored Elon Musk’s tweets.
But why do we love it?
I think it’s because we have a robust and thriving community.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not sure if this exact proposal will work. It is merely just a concept and probably flawed in many ways. However, what I’m 100% sure of is that whether it’s through a product similar to Rooms or something completely different, Twitter needs to put the idea of community front and center. Community needs to be infused into the experience of Twitter. It is the missing piece of the puzzle.
Who am I?
I’m an engineering-minded product designer and a design-minded iOS engineer from New York City. I also happen to be looking to join a team of passionate people to work on some great products.
If that interests you, lets chat: firstname.lastname@example.org or @danielrakh