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Welcome New Twitter User. Now Get Lost!
When I review startups and/or services, I like to make sure I review them from the perspective of the target user. With that said, last weekend I decided to take a look at what a new Twitter user would experience. One thing is clear…Twitter seems to want to push new users away. The overall design and experience just screams “get lost” to a new user. Even if we look at average users (like myself), it’s easy to get confused.
This post is only in reference to twitter.com and does not include any of the desktop apps including Hootsuite, Seesmic, Tweetdeck, Brizzly, etc. New users won’t download those apps straight away – their first experience will be with twitter.com.
Concepts to grasp:
- happening posts – this is the new text box that you are supposed to answer the question, “What’s Happening?” While there is no notation, this is the content that is referred to as a tweet
- re-tweets – today there are two types of tweets – the old kind “RT @centernetworks moo” and the new kind by clicking the retweet link under a tweet which only appears when you mouse over a tweet
- replies – a reply to a comment/tweet made by another user (note I didn’t say person because so many twitter accounts are just robots- be it RSS robots or auto-tweet robots)
- lists – this is the new one – people are added to lists created by other Twitter users.
That list above is already a lot for a new user to grasp. Frankly the new retweet function should have been named “share” because that is what you are doing. Instead we get new terminology that new users have to attempt to figure out what it means and how it works. Sure you could read the 74 “manuals” that Mashable has put together but most new users want to rip open the package and start playing the video game, not read that button A is shoot and button B is death ray warp.
Finding users to follow:
When you signup for a new Twitter account, you can choose to import your contacts from your email or another social service. I am not sure what percentage of people do this but I imagine it’s somewhere around 50%. The other 50% get nothing to start with except a default list (also known as the suggested user list). <sarcasm>This is great for new users.</sarcasm> The default list gives a new user about 200 followers that are pre-selected by Twitter. Ya’all know how I feel about the default list and why it needs to go so I will leave those comments out of this post.
Let’s assume you are interested in food, with the default list you grab feeds for Techcrunch, Mashable, GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb. Nothing against these blogs but they have nothing to do with food. You also get other people and companies to follow like Kevin Rose, Victoria Belmont, Jetblue, Al Gore, Justine, 50cent, all the twitter execs, and a cat. None of these accounts have to do with food. Once again, Twitter is basically pushing new users away by not offering them people to follow based on interest or location.
A default list would be great plus for new users if it matched interests, location and provided some discovery.
Ok, so you have your account, you’ve got a basic grasp on how to use twitter.com and you have a list of “excellent” accounts to follow. So what to do now? I guess I type something into the box about what’s happening in my life. If I only have the default list of followers, there will be zero interaction. If I’ve added my contacts and they have added me to their Twitter account, there is a slight chance that someone might reply. Most people I talk to who are new at using Twitter believe it’s a conversation. I type a message and others reply. But if I have very few users and/or have users who won’t reply, then is it a conversation at all?
This is another major hurdle that Twitter is going to have to figure out…how to get new users some level of interaction so they feel like sticking around.
Twitter has decided to try to become more “alive” by adding a notation when new tweet messages are available in your stream. Here’s what the message looks like:
If you have a lot of followers (let’s say you picked all 200 default users or imported your contacts), the message above will appear over and over. If the count goes above 25, a problem arises. When you click the message, the page refreshes with the new tweets but only the first 25 or so are displayed. So now you have to click the next button at the bottom of the page, but now you are behind on the latest tweets. It’s a never-ending cycle.
My guess is that eventually Twitter will make the “stream” live like they have done with the new widget and will be yet another copy of FriendFeed’s features. That will present a whole new slew of new user issues but until that functionality is added, we have to stick with what’s available today.
The new retweet functionality (which as I noted above should be switched immediately to “share”) is pretty confusing. Let’s take a look at the three options if you click the retweets link on the right side of the page:
- Retweets by others – my page is always blank – I have no idea what this is for – I assume for tweets by other people that are retweeting? But who? How does my page get filled up?
- Retweets by you – here is a list of the tweets I shared (see how easy that works?)
- Your tweets, retweeted – so here is a list of tweets that I wrote that were retweeted by others. But it’s important to note that this only includes the new retweet option not the old way – damn that’s confusing.
Maybe they need to add an option — something like — tweets that were retweeted by the tweeter who tweeted them by retweeting? Just change the language to share – stop trying to invent something new when it just isn’t needed.
If Twitter is going to stick with the “retweet” lanaguage – then let’s do a quick usability fix for them. Move the retweet tabs as follows:
- retweets by others – becomes a tab on the main screen – it makes the most sense here
- retweets by you – would be a filter on the above tab
- your tweets, retweeted – moves to a tab on the replies function
As you can see, Twitter is not easy to use as a new user. If Twitter wants to continue to grow their userbase and stay away from becoming a quick fad, they will need to spend time and effort on making things simpler. Just because Scoble can make 150 lists and manage 10 accounts, doesn’t mean the average Internet user can.
I share this story so that each of you will think about these issues as you design your startups. So many of the ideas I review or provide feedback on are great but the ability to connect with the core user is what holds the startup back from success.