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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Twitter Twaddle

It appears that Twitter may want to curtail third-party Twitter clients. Now I think Mashable might be overstating the case a little, and their failure to link to the forum post doesn’t bolster their case, but Twitter does want clients to act the same way.

Too bad they don’t practice what they preach.

I’ve used the official Twitter clients for web, MacOS X, and iPad. They all kind of look similar, perhaps as much as possible given the natures of the underlying platforms. But all three of them do things a little differently:

  • Hover over a shortened link in the web client, and it displays a tooltip showing the expanded URL. Neither iPad nor OSX versions do that.
  • Tap a tweet with no links or hashtags on the iPad, and you get the tweeter’s profile. Click the same tweet in the OSX client, and you get… nothing. On the web client, you get other recent tweets from that account.
  • The OSX client has a pretty slick way of handling multiple accounts — avatars for each account appear in the sidebar and you can click on them to switch. I don’t see that on either the web or iPad clients.
  • In the OSX and iPad clients, retweeting gives you a “quote tweet” option that the web client doesn’t.
Even if Twitter’s own clients worked the same across all platforms, I’d say they’re jumping the gun by trying to limit third-party development. In addition to the Twitter clients, TweetDeck (my primary client until recently), and a FireFox plugin called EchoFon on occasion. TweetDeck is an elaborate client, offering simultaneous views of user-defined lists. For example, I have my main tweetstream, mentions, several searches, direct messages, and new followers in separate panels. It’s a very nice way to keep up with a lot of info at once… too bad it uses Adobe AIR, which makes it screw up under heavy load. EchoFon is very simple, and lives in the bottom right corner of the browser until you pop it up to see what’s going on. Both of them offer different ways to interact with Twitter from the “official” clients, and depending on what you need they can be better ways.

In short, the Twitter ecosystem is far from being complete. Even if it was, it needs to be able to evolve to meet the needs of the people using it. The Twitter developers themselves know a lot about the system internals, but they’re somewhat removed from the people actually using the system day-in day-out. The users know what they want to do and how they want to do it — let the creativity of third-party app developers fill the needs, and leverage the knowledge gained. In other words, adapt the most popular new features to your own apps.

But first, get your own apps working the same way before you demand that third-party developers do likewise.


  1. If the masters of Twitter want to make the main site function faster, more efficiently, with every option everyone on every platform desires, then please, let them go ahead. Until then, desires for knocking out third party clients is impractical, amongst other adjectives.

  2. I agree, the inconsistencies of Twitter's own user experience make it look like the emperor has no clothes.

    In fact, the iPad client, while visually pleasing, is confusing and feels like the actual user experience was an afterthought.

    In terms of consistency across different platforms they could learn a thing or two from Twitterrific. If feels familiar whether you're on iPhone/iPod, iPad or Mac, and it seems really well thought out.

  3. I don't know who twitter thinks they're fooling. If people would rather use a 3rd party adaptation of your site it should be a WAKE UP CALL. Good post, Farf.

  4. Hey all!

    Like anything else, the main site (#newtwitter) has its good and bad points. But I think that's the point — they should iron out the bad points (some of which people have been quite vocal about) and roll out the same functionality to the on-board apps before curtailing what third parties do.

    David, it's funny but I think I like the iPad client best of all the "official" Twitter clients. Although the OSX version is starting to grow on me, especially after I found how nice the multiple-account feature works.

    Very good point, Monica, and it's a point that many companies have ignored to their detriment. It's not like microblogging is rocket science, Twitter has the momentum right now but Google had one (can't remember the name) that they could revive.


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