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Why is Twitter.com so badly designed?

Since I’m always complaining about Twitter.com, it’s just fair for me to list what I think is wrong with it and how it should be improved. Please note: I’m only criticising the Twitter.com website, not the service itself or any other Twitter client.

1. Twitter Profile page highlighting top navigationHow is “Profile” a suitable label for your Twitter stream? Can you imagine someone talking about their “profile” on Twitter, when they mean their updates? Making it even more confusing, this menu item is not even highlighted after it’s selected.

2. For that matter, why is there not a decent Profile page? (In the normal social networking sense of the word.) Tweets are restricted to 140 characters for a good reason; there is no reason to have only a 140 character bio and a single link.

3. Why on earth is there only a Tweet box at the top of the Home page? At the very least, there should be one on the Profile page. Really, you should be able to tweet from any page on Twitter.com.

4. As soon as you scroll down, you lose the Tweet box. So if an update lower down on the page spurred you to write, or if you click Reply, bad luck: you have to lose it from sight in order to write.

5. Comparison of right-hand navigation on Twitter Home and Profile pages respectivelyLook at the inconsistency in the right-hand navigation between the Home page and the Profile page. Home has @replies, DMs, Favorites and Retweets (itself a disaster). Profile has Tweets and Favorites only. Is there any reason for them to be different on your own Profile? (On someone else’s Profile it will be Tweets and Favorites only, of course.) I’ve often been confused at the disappearance of, say, @replies, only to realise it’s because I’m on the Profile, rather than the Home page.

6. The Home right-hand navigation area is also polluted by, essentially, promotions, such as “Who to follow” and “Trending”. They are not visually distinguished from real navigation.

7. The right-hand navigation could generally be a lot better. Why not have the hashtags you’ve used, since they’re effectively a way of categorising your tweets? Why not display the total numbers of @replies, Favorites and Retweets (as for DMs)? The Search box is in a silly place, and being directly below your navigation links, implies it’s searching your tweets, not all tweets.

8. Only when you’re on the Home page (twitter.com) can you easily see who you’re signed in as (badge at top right). On the Profile page, only the “That’s you!” under the photo at the top tells you. On other pages, nothing tells you. In a household with multiple Twitter accounts, this is rather frustrating.

9. Twitter.com does a terrible job of showing you recent activity. When you log in to Twitter, you expect bright highlights alerting you of new @replies, if one of your tweets was favorited or retweeted, or if you have new DMs. When done right, this really boosts addictiveness: Facebook and Flickr are just two examples.

10. The inability to Search inside your own Twitter stream, or inside someone else’s, is simply crippling. I assume that this is a technical limitation due to Twitter’s scale, but it should be a top priority. If Google had bought Twitter, I imagine this would’ve been the first thing they’d fix.

11. When you look at someone else’s Profile, Twitter could display much, much more useful information. (Having a real Profile page would help.) Basically, the sort of information that 3rd-party services like MrTweet offers: their tweet frequency, how long they’ve been on Twitter, the nature of their Twitter usage (ratio of posts with links, ratio of posts that are @replies, recurrent hashtags, etc.)

On your own Profile, you’d want to see statistics. Number of views of your stream, number of favourites and retweets, ideally graphed over time (like Flickr does it).

12. The “More” page-down experience is atrocious. It’s slow, you can’t skip by more than a page at a time, so if you want to go back a few days it takes forever. And if you navigate away, and click Back, the entire stream is gone again. Presumably this is another technical limitation.

Ideally, I want actual paging links like on Flickr or Vimeo. (Only for a single person’s stream, not the firehose.)

13. The display of user lists is bad, both in the mini form (avatars in the right-hand column) and the full page listings.

On the mini version, relying on tooltips or the browser status bar to read a person’s name is very user-unfriendly. You want to scrub your mouse over the avatars and easily read the names as you do so.

On the full-page versions, where is the paging? Like the Twitter stream, there’s only a “Next” link. How are you expected to navigate through more than a 100 people? They are in no discernable order, and there’s no ability to order them by username, first or last name, or search within the list (like Facebook).

14. An obvious, if geeky, enhancement: automatically hyperlink a Tweet ID. Currently if you want to link to another tweet, you have to use an URL shortener. (A tweet ID is 9 characters shorter than a bit.ly link.)

And here are just some shortcomings that were fixed scandalously late:

  • Native URL shortening
  • The Follow button used to be a gear for ages
  • Emails alerting you to new followers contained no useful info (the follower’s bio was just added a few weeks ago)

I understand Twitter is focusing on growth, and many shortcomings are unavoidable results of its scale (such as Search and proper paging), but they cannot afford to lose sight of the user experience. But mostly I can’t understand how the remarkably talented UX folks they’ve been hiring — people like Kevin Cheng and Doug Bowman — can allow these problems to persist for so long. (While simultaneously rolling out unimpressive features like the infernal hovercards and “Who to follow”.)

Perhaps Twitter’s attitude is to focus on the API, and leave the user experience to third-party services and Twitter clients. That would be a pity: it’s a jungle out there if you’re looking for decent Twitter services. For every decent 3rd-party service or client there’s a plethora of ones that are ramshackle, spammy or downright malware. I also find this explanation implausible, given their investment in UX design talent.