About two weeks ago, I decided to give the official Twitter Android app a try. I have tried it briefly here and there over the years, but the last time I used it was probably five years ago. I have always jumped around with third-party apps, so I was fairly curious how the official Twitter app had changed.
The sign-in process was typical and I was soon at the top of my timeline. I scrolled down about one screen worth and then I saw this:
All three tweets on the screen are from people I don’t follow. Of those, I understand the retweet, and the advertisement (“promoted tweet”) isn’t entirely unexpected, but why is it suggesting Trump? Hopefully it is doing more than “the user follows Koush and Koush follows Trump, so the user should follow Trump,” but there isn’t any evidence that it’s more sophisticated than that. This suggestion is so bad, it’s almost comical.
I decided to be patient and not uninstall the app yet. A while later, I was doing something else when I got a notification:
It’s a notification telling me that two people I follow have retweeted someone else’s tweet. The SnoqualmiePass account isn’t relevant to me (Snoqualmie Pass is the part of I-90 that goes through the Cascades) nor is the tweet. So, not only does the Twitter app inject tweets that aren’t relevant into your timeline, it goes out of its way to send them to you as notifications. I dug into the settings to disable this (and many of the other notifications), but I was tempted to either block Twitter from creating notifications at all or uninstall the app.
When I went back to the Twitter app and looked through my timeline, I really felt like each screen had minimal content that I cared about. That seemed very strange to me, because most third-party apps felt a lot better. I looked into it more closely and I noticed two issues. First, Twitter injects tweets I don’t care about (suggestions, ads, etc.). Second, Twitter shows a large photo and webpage title for every tweet that has a link. I like to see photos… when they are explicitly added to a tweet. When Twitter just scrapes them from a website, they’re not relevant to me. Instead of photos being a special thing that stands out, they’re now on the majority of tweets and I have to actively ignore them to find the content I care about.
Another issue I ran into was returning to the app and getting the “While you were away…” text. I couldn’t tell if this was just pointing out a random tweet that happened when I wasn’t in twitter or if there was significance to multiple tweets following the text. It seemed entirely arbitrary and created chronological confusion.
Twitter also injects suggestions for who to follow as a horizontally scrolling list. Again, this is another screenshot that only shows a single sentence that’s relevant to me.
One thing that it seems like every third-party app does but the official Twitter app doesn’t do is properly track your position. Most third-party apps actually handle this across devices, but the official app doesn’t even do this properly on a single device. I would sometimes return to the app and be randomly at the top of the timeline; other times, I’d come back and see this:
The King 5 tweet is the last one I read, so the King County Metro tweet at the top (and those above it are new to me). Awesome, it actually remembered my position! It didn’t load all the missing tweets for me, but I guess I can press the button to tell Twitter to perform this obvious action. And then I see this:
What Twitter did was maintain the position of the new tweet and push everything else down. That means I now have tweets I have not read both above and below my current position. Why? What is the expectation now? Am I supposed to read the tweets from here down until I get to where I was at in the timeline, then scroll back up to this position and start reading upward? I really don’t know what the thinking is here, but there is no visual indication of which tweets I have seen and which I haven’t seen, so this situation is incredibly frustrating.
I think all these UX issues come down to a simple problem. You can crudely divide the group of users who read tweets into two categories: 1) The kind who open Twitter and always want to find something new and 2) The kind who follow the specific things they care about and don’t want to miss tweets. In short, they either care about 1) quantity or 2) quality. Twitter has gone 100% toward satisfying the first user group at the expense of the second.
It feels like a product manager said, “We need to increase engagement!” Someone decided to measure engagement based on a stupid metric like how many additional accounts users follow and every decision since has been based on trying to make that number look good.
The whole experience is so bad to me that I’d probably delete my Twitter account altogether if there weren’t good third-party Twitter apps.