Some badly needed improvements to Twitter conversations

Of late, I am spending good amount of time on twitter. I use desktop version of Yoono client to unify all my social streams (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, IM) into one stream and one interface. And on my mobie, I use TweetDeck which provides similar functionality.

This generally works out fine as long as you have only small number of followers and of similar interest.  But you start realizing the weakness of this interface as your interests vary and the followers generally fall into non-overlapping or completely disjoint groups.

For example, I have grouped the people that I follow into multiple lists (some public and some private):

SOA, APIs – Folks who talk about SOA, API related standards and technologies (REST, OAuth etc), Service virtualization, API management systems (@apigee, @mashery etc) etc.  This area is close to my heart. I spent past 5.5 years building the products at apigee (sonoa systems).

Identity – Bloggers/Experts working the “Identity” area. I started spending some time on cloud identity and keenly follow what is happening in this area. I give top priority to this from attention point of view.

BigData – People related to big data (NoSql, Hadoop, Machine Learning etc )

Cloud –  Folks  talking about various aspects of public/private cloud.

Cisco –  Few Cisco folks that I started following recently. Very high bandwidth chit-chat, mainly among the folks @Beaker, @reilyusa, @swardley, @jamesurquhart

Tech – General tech related (mobile, social, java, dynamic languages etc). Also includes tech news from the likes of techmeme.com

Friends -Few friends and known people. The talk here is not particularly related to any area. It could be sometimes about cricket, IPL and sometimes about lokpal bill, corruption, crooked politics etc. Very different topics depending on what is happening in India in general

Startup – Startup advise, folks from interesting startups etc

Everything Else – All others that donot fall into the above category.

If I analyze my twitter stream and how I read, I see few problems:

Missing notion of a conversation

Identifying and following an individual conversation or thread of discussion itself is very difficult to achieve with twitter. There is no fundamental notion of a conversation in twitter. Email clients, for example, make use of either subject or Message-Id, In-Reply-To, References headers to keep track of conversations.  While twitter supports an optional field in_reply_to_status_id to refer to the tweet that you are replying to, but I wonder if any twitter client is making use of it (either in replying or while displaying the tweets).

Imagine a mailing list or a discussion forum where posts from all topics are forced into one virtual topic.  This is what twitter does to the conversations, taking us several decades back in usability.  I think, this problem is generally not perceived if there are only two people tweeting/replying each other. But the moment a 3rd person join in or several other folks following them, it becomes unwieldy.

Mix up of conversations

Many tweets from folks are not related to each other. In some of my lists like “cloud”, “identity” and “Friends”, I see lot of conversations.  But these separate group of conversations when mixed into one universal stream causes serious problem in making sense out of it.  As I go through the twitter stream from the bottom(oldest) to the top(latest), I am forced to switch the context from one conversation to the other.

Incomplete conversations

Assume  users @a,  @b and @c are exchanging tweets either using “ReplyTo” or “Edit & Retweet”. Say, you are following users @a and @b and not @c.   As a result replies or edited retweets of @c are not visible in your stream. You get to know about these incomplete tweets with @c only when @a or @b are replying to tweets of @c.

It would be nice to have an option to detect this and include in my stream the tweets of people that I donot follow provided they are part of the conversation. As I think about this, it shouldn’t be hard to achieve this even without the support of in_reply_to_status_id.

Grouping of  followers

While the notion of  twitter “lists” is useful for others to find a read-made list of people to follow,  no twitter client seems to make use of it to enhance the user interface. In addition to lists, it would be nice to group the people I follow into separate streams so that I can easily deal with high-quality chit-chat and high-bandwidth chit-chat and provide the attention appropriately.

Read/Unread status of Tweets

(Update 6th June 2011 – See the feature announcement from tweetmarks.net for last-read synching. Nice!!)

I mentioned this in the context of another post. I follow twitter streams primarily on two devices today (laptop and mobile). Very soon, I might add a tablet to the list (I do check out the tweets once in a while on the TV (Samsung Internet@TV), but this not very convenient at this point. I have temporarily discontinued my twitter/facebook ticker for Samsung TV project half way. Until I complete this project,  the current TV app is not convenient to use).

Basically, the problem is that the “read” status of tweets is not maintained as I switch devices. As a result, you are forced to re-read or scroll down and find a point to skip to. A big PIA if you have lot of tweets in your stream.

Unlike the other problems mentioned above, this cannot be solved by twitter clients alone. It needs support from twitter platform. This “read” status cannot be the attribute of individual tweets. Instead it has to be an attribute associated with user-id/status_id combination.

While I tried few other twitter clients, I have never explored official twitter client (other than the web version). After switched to the new twitter.com UI, I donot remember seeing any new feature that twitter added. If twitter is discouraging users to innovate on twitter clients, I hope atleast it does some innovation.

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One thought on “Some badly needed improvements to Twitter conversations

  1. Pingback: Weekly Random links of Interest – ITaaS, Weiner’s downfall, LulzSec and BitCoins « The "Present" I live in

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