Since its founding, Twitter has made a religion of listening to users. After all, they came up with some of the company’s best ideas — including the hashtag, reply and retweet. After the flow of good ideas from users stopped, Twitter was hard-pressed to come up with its own.
I recently switched my primary twitter app from Plume to Fenix. On UI and features, both have their pros & cons, but Plume’s usability had taken a massive dive recently with long delays and freezes. Fenix, on the other hand is as fast as they get. Probably, even faster than Twitter’s own app!
While Fenix is faster, prettier, and generally more pleasant to use than Plume, it also has a few serious drawbacks – especially for users like me, with multiple Twitter accounts.
After 3 weeks of using it, I’ve even come to like some of its drawbacks (no multi-account integrated timeline – allows focus), and been desperately hunting/craving/begging for others to be removed.
This post is a list of those nettlesome issues, and my suggestions on how to remove them.
1. Easy switching between accounts
Currently, switching between timelines on two accounts requires: an edge swipe and a slightly problematic tap1. While this is an improvement from the earlier edge swipe + 2 taps, it’s still not fast or efficient enough.
Suggested solution: Swipe on action bar to switch between accounts.
Swiping on the list of tweets currently switches between various columns – timeline, mentions, DMs, favourites, etc. Swiping on the action bar would switch between accounts in a similar manner. In fact, this UI pattern is already used by Chrome for Android – we can switch between adjacent browser tabs by swiping on location bar / action bar2.
2. Add ability to post same tweet from multiple accounts
The compose tweet function in Fenix is better than the timeline feature – user can start composing from either account and switch, with 2 simple taps, to another account. It also has the best integration of ‘drafts’ functionality that I’ve seen across any twitter app so far3.
However, it lacks a very important feature for multi-account users – ability to post the same tweet from multiple accounts in one go. Plume accomplishes this quite well (3rd screen in the image below), and it would be really great to see a similar functionality come to Fenix.
3. Better muting / filtering functionality
The changes requested so far are (mostly) UI tweaks that enhance experience for multi-users. The muting/filtering feature upgrade requests below, however, are highly relevant for all users. Also, of all the functionality in Fenix, this is one area where I feel it really needs to improve by quite a bit.
1) Apply new filters to both new tweets and the tweets already downloaded
The current implementation of muting in Fenix works by applying the set filters on new, incoming tweets. While this works for long-standing filters, it’s not very useful when you wake up in the morning to see your timeline full of tweets with a random, useless hashtag, say #ReplaceAMovieTitleWithGoat.
Now, even if add a new muting rule to filter out that #tag, it only prevents new tweets from being added to my timeline. I still need to hurdle past the 100s of unwanted tweets with that #tag already in.
Suggested solution: Every time the filter/mute list is updated, run the filter function on all the tweets in the current timeline. Just as it would be run on incoming tweets.
My hunch here is that the filter function is being run when the tweets arrive from Twitter’s backend to the app, and only the unfiltered ones are sent for storing locally to the content provider4. For filtering (and unfiltering) of already downloaded tweets to work, the code needs to be changed so that it stores all tweets, and filters them when the content resolver/adapter4 fetches them from content provider to populate the list.
2) Filter out tweets sent using specific apps
Twitter’s API provides, for every tweet, the source app used to post that tweet. Fenix uses this information in the detailed tweet display mode:
While this may be marginally useful from information perspective, it’s far more useful if the app could also provide a filter to mute tweets published using certain apps. Plume did an excellent job on this front, and prevented cluttering of timeline with automated tweets published using some very unsocial apps:
3) Create filters using regular expressions, or even clear text.
Creating simple word based filters is quite straightforward in Fenix. However, that’s all it supports. There is no support for defining filters as regular expression. Furthermore, due to a possible snafu in the app code, some text-based filters don’t work either.
As an example, I have been using ‘.@’ as a filter for a while on Plume. This filters out the tweets that begin with ‘.@twitterhandle …’, which I rarely find useful or entertaining, on Plume.
It also filters out an occasional valid tweet, which could be avoided if Plume supported regex filters, in which case the filter would have been: ^.@\S
Fenix, sadly doesn’t accept either. There’s no support for regular expressions in filters. And using ‘.@’ produces a confusing result – filtering out a lot of tweets, both those beginning with, and not beginning with, ‘.@’. My guess is that the text string provided by the user isn’t sanitised by the app before being added to the filter regex in the code.
4. Better image previews in timeline
Fenix currently offers 3 options for image previews in timeline – large (left screen below), small (middle screen), or none.
The large screen option looks beautiful! However, most images take up so much screen real estate that browsing through the list becomes a bit of a chore.
The small screen option makes the list quite nice and compact – perfect for quickly scrolling through. However, the size is so small that for most images, the preview doesn’t even offer much of a hint of the full image’s content. Result is user opening a lot more images in full view mode.
I really like Plume’s approach here:
full-column-width preview, cropped to a standard height.
Cropping by height ensures the image leaves space for more tweets, while the full-width preview gives a much better idea of the image’s content. It would be wonderful to have a similar middle-path image preview option in Fenix.
Text screenshots on Twitter are a desire path across the wall gardens around content in apps and platforms, and Twitter’s text-dominant streams.
Twitter cards, though a handicap on pure, free sharing of content, provide a way through the content wall gardens. But even the cards don’t provide the break through text clutter that images do. Specially, on 3rd party Twitter clients.
For consumers of content tags, or #tags, serve two primary functions:
The Follow function: To follow news of interest (e.g. a column with #lbl tweets showing latest updates from the race without me having to follow it live on TV), and
The Filter function: To filter out specific content from the stream for various reasons, such as
to either avoid listening news before we want to (match scores, movie spoilers), or
to avoid getting drowned in updates during big events (SXSW, Google IO, WWDC, IPL, SuperBowl tweets taking over the timeline for brief periods), or
to remove news from the timeline that we’re not at all uninterested in.
Content & platform companies all love the follow function, and have tried to make it as easy as possible for users to access it.
It’s understandable. Apart from allowing easy search, this also presents a straightforward way of targeting advertising to users based on interests. This ability to show relevant advertising – Specialized Shivs to users following IronMan world championships, and the latestBAAS to developers following Google IO – is extremely valuable to these companies.
The filter function, on the other hand, is almost universally neglected. None of the content consumption platforms that I use – Twitter, Google+, WordPress and Pocket – offer any easy built-in way of filtering out content. All of them make it trivially easy to follow specifically-tagged content using tags or #tags.
A large number of popular 3rd party Twitter clients have the feature to filter out specific content, indicating the strength of user demand for the filter function. That 3rd party clients have this feature, also indicates that technical complexity isn’t the reason holding back content platforms themselves from providing this function.
Users want to cut out noise & irrelevant info from their content streams, yet none of the content serving companies make it easy for them.
Are there any technical, UX, business, or legal reasons for most content companies not providing filtering functions, or is it just a conscious, unfortunate, neglect of end user needs?
In August 2011, Google bought Motorola Mobility for a reported price of USD 12.5 Billion. This included cash and credits of about USD 4 Billion. Net price paid: USD 8.5 Billion.
After a year and a half of shedding employees and departments, and putting some of its own execs in-charge, Google sold the home equipment business of Motorola to ARRIS in December 2012, for USD 2.35 Billion.
Finally, on 29 Jan 2014, Google sold the remaining operations of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for USD 2.91 Billion. Except the patents. It kept the patents for itself.
So, after all the buying and selling ended, Google ended up picking a bill of about USD 3.2 Billion. What did they get for that not-so-insignificant amount?
Some, from one end of the tech divide, will tell you they got some dud patents and a hole in the pocket.
Others might differ. Martin Bryant put out one insight on Twitter:
Google keeps most patents after reviving an ailing player in the Android ecosystem: a Machiavellian scheme if it was all preplanned.
Samsung made app concessions, Google left phone hardware & there’s a S/G patent deal. Lots more to this. Reporters, go investigate & report.
The truth, I guess, is somewhere in the middle. Google did end up brilliantly reviving an ailing player, one with a strong existing brand, in the Android ecosystem. They still might have overpaid for the patents, though no one will ever really know unless they’re tested in a court. The sale also helped assuage any troubled feeling amongst other players in the Android ecosystem who may have started feeling threatened by a reviving Motorola owned by Google. Individually, none of them seem worth the money. Together, they start to seem like a master stroke.
So, to answer the question in the title: USD 3.2 Billion buys you about 20,000 patents (incl pending) of some value, a vibrant market for your product (Google’s flavour of Android), cooperation of key market partners, and a stake in a fast growing but controversial market without having to directly invest there (Lenovo operates, and is HQed, in China!)
In this feature war between Facebook & Google+, the consensus amongst industry followers seems to be:
Consumer is clear winner and Twitter is clear loser, everything else is still up for grabs.
Well, I’ll go out on a limb and say that I feel Twitter will be a winnertoo. And my explanation for that is that good old KISS principle works everywhere – in this feature-cluttered fight for social network dominance too. And in that space – for a ‘simple’ social network – there is still no competition for Twitter.
The feature battle between FB and G+ is developing them both into powerful, yet increasingly complex, properties. This is good for users like me and the people I read – we are all technologically adept, willing to trade simplicity & a little time for more powerful features and more control over what we see / read / do.
Yet, that is not what everyone wants. Many, if not most, people just want simplicity.
People like my girlfriend. Her primary network is Twitter – she loves its simplicity in her time-starved life – and the second one is Facebook – because it has an interface she’s familiar with and because that’s where most of her friends & family are, i.e. the network effect.
People like Om Malik, who wrote a short but insightful post earlier today about increasingly feeling social network fatigue and how increasing complexity was adding to it. Twitter should pick up this punch line from his post and use in all their advertisements:
I use Twitter all the time because it is simpler, easier, real-time and always on!
People who Mike Elgan quite nicely categorised here (read that full post, it’s good):
Most Facebook users just want to interact with family and friends. They don’t want to learn anything. They don’t want a more powerful platform. They don’t want Facebook to be more like Google+.
For these people, the increasing complexity of features and controls on Facebook is causing a dissonance.
Why Twitter wins?
Simply because for the first set of people above – like Om and my girlfriend, who are always pressed for time and attention – Twitter provides a clean, single timeline that they can read and update. No likes or +1s, no separate profiles to update, no privacy controls, no circles, groups or smart-lists for sharing, no albums, apps & games. Just one timeline – simple.
The fact that of all three social networks, it is the best integrated and easiest to use on mobile helps it even more.
My hunch is, that for these people who crave simplicity – Twitter will start taking over as their primary social network. Yes, people will still stay on Facebook, many will even join G+ – but Twitter will become their primary network, with cross-posting apps their tool to update the other networks.
And that, will be a big win for Twitter.
Twitter will never be as big and ubiquitous as Facebook already is, or G+ wants to be. Yet, it has a community that is highly involved and committed. These, time-starved individuals, looking for an online community where they can feel comfortable – will not just join it, they’ll love it and commit to it in a manner they never did to Facebook.
Also, though their numbers might be small, these are the people who advertisers value a lot – people with short attention spans but good money to spend. They also happen to be the same people who are hardest to reach through old media TV & print advertisements.
Result: an increase in the ‘quality’ of users on twitter – both from their contribution to the interactions on the network as well as their value to the advertisers. Or in other words – a win for Twitter.