New new Twitter’s new new direction: Monetization

Mike Rundle sums up how many of us feel about Twitter’s new new iPhone app in Twitter For iPhone Takes A Step Back:

The new app will be more inviting and accessible to new users, but I don’t like that this comes at the expense of the user experience and existing gesture shortcuts. There’s a way to make both novice and advanced users happy, and I hope Twitter 4.1 does a better job at appealing to all sides of their userbase than 4.0 has done.

If you step back from all the interaction and visual changes, this is the overarching theme that stands out for me as well. Expert users are suddenly left out in the cold. The new approach breaks the fundamental UI principle of flexibility and efficiency of use:

Accelerators – unseen by the novice user – may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

A great example of accelerators done right is Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts. They’re there to increase efficiency for expert users, but they don’t get in the way of novice users. The same functionality is there for all users, yet expert users have the ability to become more efficient by learning these shortcuts.

And that’s where the new Twitter for iPhone falls down. The biggest culprit is the now defunct swipe gesture on individual tweets. I’m with Ben Brooks on this one:

What is absolutely crazy – what drives me nuts – is the ditching of the swipe-to-act gesture. In previous versions you could swipe left or right on a tweet to slide open an action menu. From there you could quickly favorite, retweet, Instapaper, or reply to the tweet.

But let’s get real about this. I don’t think any of the design decisions the team made were an accident or an oversight. This is just all indicative of a company that is shifting the balance from being purely user-centered to a company that needs to sacrifice some user needs in order to make money. Dan Frommer summarized this well:

This is the beginning of Jack Dorsey’s real vision for Twitter combined with Dick Costolo’s vision for a real-time social advertising product. The main components: writing and Tweets, obviously; having conversations with other people; discovering what’s happening in the world through Twitter; and seeing a promoted message from brands here and there.

Spot on. I mentioned this morning that they should have just come clean and called the “Discover” tab the “Monetization” tab. Some have complained that users should be able to remove that tab, which is true, but it’s not going to happen because the balance has shifted. Our needs are going to be sacrificed more and more in favor of business goals[1].

So here’s the truth in all of this: the new app isn’t a mistake. It’s a deliberate and effective redesign to reduce all the pesky “distractions” (like viewing your lists and favorites easily) so that you’re more likely to “discover” the “promoted messages from brands here and there”.

I don’t think we should pass judgment on Twitter for making these decisions to increase revenue – we want them to stay around, after all. But I think we can request and expect a 4.1 version that at least meets us in the middle. Simplifying is not just about taking features away, it’s about making complex actions easier to understand and use. We need our accelerators back, please.


  1. I will say this though – I really like the “Connect” tab. The labeling might be horrible, but it’s a great feature.  â†©