WTF Twitter – Interface and Iterative Development


So what happens when we change the interfaces and the things around us too many times, even if it’s only to a small degree? Well we have to relearn it all. We mouse around looking for the same functionality, thinking “where has it gone, I can find it”. This is frustrating. Very frustrating.

Not that much for me, I think, I’m used to change.

Well I was wrong. I hate the changes to an interface, especially when it is starting to make sense and the development team seems to be listening to suggestions.

This takes me to my latest pet hate of the week. . The online application some people (Eric Meyer is one) love to hate. Over the last few weeks the people at Obvious (the people responsible for Twitter) have been tweaking the interface of Twitter on almost a daily basis. So what, you state. It’s a web application, bet its in Beta so all wining and bets are off. Well it’s not in Beta. But you would think it was the way the interface keeps being tweaked. As Molly suggests it’s not a good idea to change your interface too much midstream.

Intelligent UI suggestions have been made and some of them they have been implemented (e.g. the archive of you and your friend’s tweets). But a few days later this functionality is removed as if it never existed. WTF! A major functionality coup for twitter is lost overnight. People used to trawl the last 12 hours of tweets they had missed with their friends overnight. But now that has been removed. Maybe it was a server resources thing. Maybe it’s part of a move to get people off the web interface onto something like Twitterrific, which at least allows you to retain your name and not the username. But you still only see 40 tweets.

I would like to know the real reason why?

Hats off to Obvious when it comes to functionary on the tweets and member interfaces with improvements like:

  • emailing details of direct tweets,
  • easier follower blocking,
  • general clean up on the usability for the forms based interface in the settings section of the member profiles, and
  • a lot more as detailed on the Twitter blog, such as a whois function.

Then there are some suggestions that should never have been implemented like removing the nominated names and replacing them with usernames. In this case the changes are taking away from the sense of community and usability of Twitter. Biz Stone explains thats its for clarity of who is senting what tweet. But consider this:

  • If you get a tweet via SMS (whish my list of friends thats a tweet every minute or so) you are told the username.
  • If you get a tweet via IM, okay its via the Name, but frankly communities of friends usually adapt and tweak their names to avoid the confusion.
  • The main confusion is the web, but here you have avatars, and again communities adapt.

It seems to me that the development team at Obvious is trying to please everyone, with changes for every major compliant/suggestion. Sorry guys you can’t please 100% of the people. But the main concern it that they are implementing solutions without really going back to the compliant/suggestion at hand and examining what the user problem is and what the undercurrent of the problem is in the first place.

Is this a symptom of rapid or iterative development? And if it is shouldn’t it be stamped out as a development resource hog. You have to have some check and balance you can’t implement every request.

I have a few theories maybe it comes down to:

  • a lack of experience,
  • internal development team politics, or
  • a misplaced sense of what to implement.

However I would not have expected this type of sloppy development work from the crew at Obvious.

Currently they have made the Twitter user interface a less not usable, like I said little things can upset the apple cart, A lot of notable web usability people are not happy. It is like Twitter has gone three steps forward, two back.

What do I want? – I want the archive of friends tweets back to the beginning of Twitter.

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  1. Design by committee combined with getting drunk on the Agile koolaide. I posted my response to twitter (it seemed right ;)), but will repeat it here:

    Twitter will eat itself. We will dance on the corpse as though we had nothing to do with it. Permanence is dead, long live…?

  2. Gary,

    Thank you for your very well thought-out and concise post.

    The removal of the pagination was a blunder–a side effect of optimizing our queries. We’re about to deploy the fix today (Wednesday).

    That said, we have usability at the forefront of our minds. I’m currently spending my days making sure we have a consistent and intuitive experience. That’s going to require some changes that may not be loved by 100% of our users.

    We’re going to make mistakes. At the same time, we’re good listeners. We love this community, and we’re going to do everything possible to foster it.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!


  3. @Jack, thanks for the comment, that does clear up a few things, one thing that has t be considered sis making Twitter a better experience than IIRC.

    Mistakes are forgivable as long as you fix them or admit to them and don’t fob people off.

    Edit: 8 Feb 2007 16:00 – and on cue the pagination for the friends archive has returned – thank you Jack, you are a man of your word.

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