Twitter: standing at the crossroads.

Standing at the crossroads, world spinning round and round
Know which way I'm going, you can't bring me down - Ozzy Osbourne 

this way, that wayChange is inevitable in order for things to progress. We have an irrational fear of change but must accept it, often realising the benefits once it has happened. We are creatures of habit and anything that disrupts the status quo is unsettling - we need, however, to upset the apple cart and shake things up in order to move on rather than getting stuck in a rut.

A recent theme has emerged: that Twitter needs a new vision, a new direction.

From the outside it seems as though Twitter is standing at the crossroads wondering which way to turn, what changes to make for the best and who it is going to upset on the way.

Rob Diana asked Twitter what it wants to be when it grows up arguing that if needs to focus on product development and work out where it wants to go in order to stay one step ahead of the competition.

Mathew Ingram, over at GigaOm, goes a step further suggesting that Twitter needs "a consistent and tangible vision" under the leadership of a Steve Jobs character.

Competition

We have had the rumours that UberMedia is going to build a competitor - possibly using its stable of client applications as leverage - and the new TweetDeck web service (still in beta) is being seen as a rival to #newtwitter but Twitter needs to improve its experience in order to progress, even without the threat of competition.

It has been said UberMedia's network will focus on some of Twitter's failings and gaps in usability to gain traction and I go along with the need to recognise how people are using a service in order to greater facilitate this use.

Twitter has done it before, taking on board the ideas of hashtags and retweets, but it needs to get more creative and take a few risks.

Back to basics

A couple of days ago I had a "Wow!" moment listening to the radio in the car. During an interview, historian Neil Oliver was asked how you could sum up Stonehenge in a sentence or two. His answer: forget the stones, (what?) instead think about why people considered the site to be important enough to want to keep coming back and permanently mark it in this way. Why is the site important?

How does this apply to Twitter? Forget the tools, forget specific functionality, think about why people are using the service - why do they think it is important.

It's almost like it has been ripped straight from the intro to the Cluetrain Manifesto:

"What if the real attraction of the Internet is not its cutting-edge bells and whistles, its jazzy interface or any of the advanced technology that underlies its pipes and wires? What if, instead, the attraction is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales?"

"In sharp contrast to the alienation wrought by homogenized broadcast media, sterilized mass "culture," and the enforced anonymity of bureaucratic organizations, the Internet connected people to each other and provided a space in which the human voice would be rapidly rediscovered."

Read Twitter for "the internet" in these paragraphs and you have a good basis for realising the attraction for what is, essentially, a very basic service.

If Twitter is going to look at how we use it then a few trends may be instantly identified but it has to prove it is listening.

Dog eat dog

There is obviously a willingness to eat in to the ecosystem when it suits, and to undercut developers, but Twitter needs to start doing it better than the third parties rather than doing just enough to get by.

The beauty of Twitter, however, is in its simplicity - change the game too drastically and you run the risk of losing what you've got. It's hard to think what Twitter could do that would be big enough to be a game changer again but without destroying the success achieved so far.

The question then becomes does Twitter know which way it's going? Will it slip up allowing others to bring it down? Or, perhaps, it will take the time to rethink its direction to ensure it is on the right path.

Image by Lori Greig

Twitter: standing at the crossroads.

Initial thoughts on Tweetdeck for Android.Comments

TweetdeckRather than write a full review and duplicate the good work of others elsewhere I wanted to share a few thoughts and opinions and how I arrived at them.

The journey

I've always been a geek and have spent (too) many an hour just tinkering and tweaking to get something just the way I want it - whether it be a self build PC, website or phone. In fact I spent a long time building custom Windows Mobile 6.5 roms for my old HTC Touch Dual before the OS was released.

When my Touch Dual died (probably as a result of repeatedly re-flashing too many roms) I was still in contract so couldn't afford another Windows Mobile device. It was disappointing at the time but ultimately did me a big favour. I ended up with a Nokia XM5800 after being surprisingly impressed by the one my wife (@SallyWalker) had bought. Okay, Symbian is far from the best mobile OS but the ability to side load apps from any source was a blessing.

Without a doubt, the best application I have ever used on Symbian is the Twitter client Gravity written by @janole. The interface and design was a masterclass in what Symbian could achieve and should have become a template for how apps look on the platform. I strongly believe that Symbian themselves should really have looked at this and redesigned the OS itself.

Gravity was the perfect Twitter experience for me; it just felt "right". Using accounts from multiple services, GPS, image sharing and URL shortener integration were all there and the app was, quite honestly, way ahead of the competition and really set the standard for how Twitter clients should be, and not just on the Symbian platform.

Gravity was so good that it was the single reason I was hesitant to ditch my Nokia and move to Android. Ever since I have been searching for that perfect Twitter experience on Android but never found it - that could now be about to change.

A new hope

For some reason I can't fathom I've never been a fan of desktop Twitter apps, don't ask me why but I've just never gotten on with them and always preferred to use the web site. I installed the Tweetdeck desktop application but very soon found myself removing it.

Twitter on a phone is different and, while I have still been using the mobile website from time to time, I believe a client is the way to go to get the best from the service. However, being disappointed with the alternatives I stuck with the default HTC application Peep - it was simple and did the basics reasonably well so why waste space installing something else. Just as with desktop clients the rest didn't feel right; perhaps I had just been spoilt by Gravity.

I was intrigued when I heard that Tweetdeck would work in a similar way to Gravity: multiple accounts, swiping from side to side to switch between different columns etc. and I am glad to say that I was not disappointed. Tweetdeck feels so much like Gravity to use that it is almost a homecoming.

The current build may still be a beta with a few bugs and an incomplete feature set but I can honestly not now imagine myself using anything else on an Android device. Not a statement I make lightly.

As well as the overall experience fitting the way I see a mobile Twitter client working there are a number of features which instantly resonated:

  • performing a search and saving the results as a new column so you can keep an eye on a topic in real time
  • the Buzz notifications (I don't have my Facebook account added but it's the same thing) in the 'Me' timeline indicating, for example, if someone liked your post
  • choosing either exact coordinates or a Foursquare "Place" when geotagging
  • the little indications when you have unread items: the dots indicating pages and the yellow scroll bar at the side - the longer the bar the more unread items

The beta support forums are busy already and a lot of the requests mirror things I would personally like to see such as improved support for lists (I may even start using them), the ability to separate different services out to different columns and to show which tweets are geotagged directly in the timeline. Don't get me wrong, the combined Home column works really well with the different colours for the different services you are using but it would nice to have the choice to split them into their own streams.

The single biggest problem with Tweetdeck is the inability to change the refresh times. Currently, the application update your stream every few seconds which, on a device that has known battery life issues, is not a good call and effectively prohibits you from leaving it running in the background. Fortunately, this has already been acknowledged on the support forums so I envisage there being more options in the next build(s).

The future

As long as the key issues get resolved before Tweedeck hits version 1.0 the applications is, in my opinion, streets ahead of any other Twitter client for Android and can only get better.

Initial thoughts on Tweetdeck for Android.