I'll Pay Twitter $8 Monthly for This
I have a strong dislike for how all social networks today mess up the ‘feed’ section in a way that is plainly user hostile, and detrimental to user experience. Facebook, Instagram, Reddit—they are all guilty of this. I know it helps drive engagement, serve more ads, and make more money in the short term, but time is a finite resource, and when you employ every trick in the book to waste your users’ time, the only possible result is that over time (heh) you start losing users.
Twitter was one space where things used to be better: Twitter was about who you followed, so the concept of ‘recommended posts’ was new to the platform. But the company started with a ‘someone you follow liked this’ recommendation system, and now, somewhat recently, although I’m not sure exactly when, has started making topic based recommendations by inserting posts into the main Twitter feed for all users.
I get why Twitter (as well as others) do this, but Twitter is in some ways a special broadcast and community collaboration platform. It goes far beyond being just a social media platform in that sense.
So when Twitter does this annoying thing of injecting stuff into my feed that I have not actively opted in for, it gets, well, annoying.
This has been bugging me for a while, but I recently sat down to think about why it bothers me so much, and I think it really comes down to how I use Twitter: I rely on Twitter for general global and political news, for local and hyperlocal news and coverage, for tech and startup news and discussions, and also for entertainment—the silly kind: memes, gifs, the viral stuff, and so on. HOWEVER: I don’t ever go to Twitter with all of these needs at the same time.
The reason I log into Twitter in the morning on a weekday is entirely different from the reason I get on Twitter during my lunch break, or while waiting in line somewhere. In the morning, I want to spend maybe ten minutes or so on Twitter to catch up on the news, and to check the latest stuff shared by the journalists, VCs, entrepreneurs, and analysts I follow. Basically, just a quick ten minutes to catch up on the latest and then get on with my day. When Twitter bombards me with the viral stuff at that time, it becomes a distraction. I waste more time than I intended to, and then I hesitate to come back to Twitter, fearing another time sink. This is a major reason the time I spend on Twitter has been going down, and I suspect that’s the case for a number of people too.
What’s Twitter getting wrong here?
I think it’s simple enough: a failure to recognize that people come to Twitter for different reasons. Importantly, failure to recognize that the same person can have multiple reasons for coming to Twitter. And adjust the design accordingly.
I have a super rough mock up how this interface should look:
Let's take a quick tour of the new elements in here.
My stuff tab: In this tab, show me ONLY tweets by accounts I follow. Don’t show me retweets. Don’t show me what someone I follow liked or responded to. Just the tweets, that’s all. Probably a good idea to bring back the chronological order sorting for this tab, but that’s probably too much to ask for. If I follow ten accounts, and there are only a dozen new tweets to show, so be it. Keep this tab vary narrowly focused.
Recommended tab: Here, show me the second and third degree stuff. Not beyond that, though. If I follow person A, and they interact with a tweet (like, comments, or retweet), toss that in here. If person A follows an account that I should be aware of (in Twitter's algorithmic opinion, that is), throw that in here too. But don’t take it beyond that. Let’s save that for the next tab.
Viral Stuff tab: In this tab, toss in all the other stuff including topic based recommendations, viral posts and memes that are tangentially related to my interests and existence, the jokes and gifs—the works. This stuff makes the internet fun, and we do want it somewhere—just not everywhere, all the time. Go beyond the second and third degree ‘connections’ here, as needed.
This already helps me clean up my feed a ton, and gives me better control over how I use Twitter in the course of a day. But a few more things would really make this worth that $8 a month.
Music/Blockchain/Topic of Interest: These are topics I am interested in. I might follow an artist or a brand, or an industry, and so on. I have a few specific hopes for this section:
- Show me tweets on this by people who I follow. BUT don’t show me tweets by these people not on this topic. If I follow someone for their sports commentary, show me those tweets here, but leave out their other tweets about their vacation, or breakfast, or some joke they came across.
- Make Twitter a genuine platform to find experts on a topic. In this tab, also show me tweets by other people, who I don’t follow, and I am not perhaps connected with at all, as long they are on this same topic, so I can discover more perspectives and more people who have interesting things to say on this particular topic.
- Let’s not have too many of these, though. Let me pick 1-4 interests along these lines, and show me specific tabs for these.
A couple more things I’d like to see, in addition.
- Site-wide NSFW content filter: I know Twitter has a TOS, and isn’t meant for kids, and I shouldn’t be fussy about the kind of stuff I see on Twitter—I get that. I’m someone who has spent time on Reddit, including its obscure corners, as well as on 4chan, so I know what the internet is capable of, and I’m not squeamish or fussy or sensitive. However: none of that matters if I’m on the bus or on the tube, and there are people around me in a position to peer over my shoulder. Especially if there are kids around. In a public space, I certainly hesitate to open Twitter, since I don’t know what I might see.
How would you filter this? Simple enough: When people try to post anything other then a text tweet, and upload any type of media—video, image, or gif—get get them to mark the content as either NSFW, NSFL, or Safe for All. Reddit has a simple site wide filter for NSFW content that works fine, so this isn’t too hard. There will always be people who deliberately or mistakenly mark their content wrong, but the basic community-driven content reporting feature, which already exists, should take care of this.
- Trends filter: Trending stuff on Twitter is usually a roll of the dice. The content here can be interesting, it can get you up to speed on something current, or utterly waste your time with something trivial. There’s no way to tell, until you go in there. And quite often, these trends pique your curiosity, too. The solution would be a simple Hide trending button. Don’t show me this stuff until I specifically choose to look at it.
Would be all be worth a $8 monthly subscription? I think so. More than the blue check or other creator features, as a mostly passive content consuming user of Twitter, I’d find these features definitely worth paying for.
I write about technology, user experience, product design, and more. I also review some (not all) of the books I read.