Link From Twitter

Twitter have damaged their phone app by adding a feature. This is a problem software is particularly prone to, so let’s sift through it.

I was surprised to find Twitter useful. It had originally seemed a concentration of the least interesting ingredients of online culture: celebrities wittering moments from their shadow lives in a medium where smalltalk was enforced by a strict character limit. That’s not wrong, but it is incomplete. Twitter can be rendered functional, for me, by following interesting people, who link in depth, and by dropping anyone who emits more than two dozen undirected tweets in a week. 

Despite my faddish embrace of the medium du jour, two of the best discussion groups I am a part of are still closed mailing lists of mutual friends. It is also easy, with mail, to copy other random people that might care. This electronic mail thing really seems to have a future. Someone should look into that.

With this use pattern, and the primacy of the smartphone in a busy life, a fair proportion of the times I find something cool on twitter involves mailing a link.

Until recently, the email composed by twitter consisted of a link, my default signature, and an empty subject. This wasn’t great. Typing a subject, like typing anything on the phone, is a bit of a pain. Blankness is lousy microcontent, a terrible breach of information etiquette for a platform focused on short semantic bursts. Feedly – heck even Safari, dog that it is – at least has the sense to use the title of the web page in question.

Twitter fixed this bug. The latest version of the app sets email subjects to “Link from Twitter” and, as well as the link, adds a note to “Download the official Twitter app here. The fix of course is worse than the bug. Not having a subject just looks careless, like leaving your fly undone. “Link from Twitter” looks like somebody paid you €5 to tattoo an advertisement on your arse and then moon out car windows.

The time spent to delete that guff and replace it with something more meaningful is time wasted. Pretty much anything would be more meaningful to most recipients, who care about what was sent, not how it was sent. The empty subject is better. The subject “lol” would even be better, as at least it tells the audience about the content instead of whether it was sent by carrier pigeon or whichever. This is true even if you drink from the twitter firehouse; then you waste even more time.

If Twitter really thought it was important to squeeze some self-promotion into my email, they would find a way that added to my user experience. Why are people using the tool in the first place? It’s for snippets of content in a social network context. I don’t care that something came from Twitter, but I might care that it came from a particular user on Twitter. Maybe quote the tweet the link originated from, or mention the @user. Maybe link back to that tweet. Maybe I followed a few onward links, and am mailing that, so provide a breadcrumb trail of that history with a chain of vias. Do neat things that bring people into your conversation. Don’t make my email look like a spam. And don’t waste my time.

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2 thoughts on “Link From Twitter

  1. This is where I give that most irritating of replies, “You’re making the wrong rant” or, to follow the snarky formula, “You’re using the official Twitter app? That’s your first problem.”

    I’ve used a few Twitter clients (including the official Twitter app and its predecessor, Tweetie). I’ve now settled on Tweetbot, which I happen to like quite a bit and have heard no complaints about in my Twitter stream, while many former fans of Tweetie have become disenchanted with what it’s become. I don’t have a habit of emailing links from my Twitter app, but I tested it out after reading this post.

    Tapping “Email” from a tweet produces an email with the following:
    Subject: Tweet by [@username]
    Body: Text of the tweet, with the usual context that goes with a tweet.

    (There is a Tweetbot logo at the bottom but it’s not identified as such, and there’s no promotional link for the app itself as far as I can tell.)

    Tapping “Email” from a web page I’ve opened from a tweet produces:
    Subject: page title
    Body: URL, followed by: (Source: [link to the tweet that includes the link I clicked on)

    (Oddly, no Tweetbot logo.)

    So, your complaint can be addressed by switching clients. The problem is that Twitter has become increasingly hostile to third-party apps, which is a shame. Given the healthy competition among Twitter app developers, it’s likely that there is an application out there for everyone’s taste. (This is the ideal answer to any usability issue — that someone will come along with a better solution and win in the marketplace.) But that doesn’t help if the platform ceases to support the third-party developer community. (That’s my rant, btw, if I had one.)

    As an aside, I’m not sure why I don’t take advantage of the email feature more often, but my personal usage patterns aside, it would be a good thing for app developers to focus on, given what Alexis Madrigal calls “Dark Social”: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/dark-social-we-have-the-whole-history-of-the-web-wrong/263523/#

    (It is of course more advantageous for third-party developers, since the whole goal of Twitter’s own app should be to keep people interacting within their own platform.)

    Finally, on the subject of Twitter’s usefulness as a medium, the upcoming Fiction Festival seems like a good opportunity to introduce the fridge-micro-blog. Or could we come up with a better, more 2012 idea?

    • Ok, so I got all ready to reward good usability by buying Tweetbot. Prepared myself for a week to cross the psychological barrier of actually paying money for an app.

      And I found myself back in the special jurisdictional hell Apple have devised for people who have moved country. Just read some threads that fill me with despair and ennui even before actually clicking the button to switch. It makes me feel all Bruce Sterling glocal:

      I know that, by the cultural standards of the 20th century, my newfangled glocal lifestyle ought to bother me. I ought to feel deracinated, and I should suffer from culture shock, and I should stoically endure the mournful silence and exile of a writer torn from the kindly matrix of his national culture. A traditional story.

      However, I’ve been at this life for years now; I really tried; the traditional regret is just not happening. […]

      Living on the entire planet at once is no longer a major challenge. It’s got its practical drawbacks, but I’m much more perturbed about contemporary indignities such as airport terrorspaces, ATM surchanges and the open banditry of cellphone roaming. This is what’s troublesome. The rest of it, I’m rather at ease about.

      So I’ve given up for the moment. One more reason to move to Android, then.

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