Twitter’s Flawed Design Is It’s Biggest Problem

twitterENJOY TWITTER? GOOD news! That makes you part of a surprisingly exclusive club. The bad news? Twitter as you know it might not be around much longer. At least, not if Twitter wants to survive.

That Twitter?s in a near-constant state of minor renovation is nothing new to its most dedicated users, who sound the alarm every time an innocuous blue line appears, or carefully customized wallpaper vanishes. It?s an understandable reaction, the kind you?d have walking into your living room to find that the sofa and side table had switched places overnight.

It?s increasingly clear, though, that Twitter?s going to need more than a little feng shui in order to thrive. Even the major changes it?s promised might not be enough. To attract the kind of mass user base it seeks, it may need a full gut reno.

The User Gap

Twitter?s fundamental problem doesn?t take an advanced business degree to grok. It doesn?t have enough users, and the new ones it attracts have a hard time catching on. It?s a social network that?s not very sociable.

?The larger population at hand doesn?t understand why Twitter should be a part of the day,? explains Forrester Research analyst Erna Alfred Liousas. ?They don?t understand why they should carve out time away from the networks they already use because they fundamentally don?t understand its purpose or how to use it.?

While that sounds a bit damning, the truth is that no one?s more aware of the problem than Twitter itself. ?We have only reached early adopters and technology enthusiasts,? explained CFO Anthony Noto in an earnings call this week, ?and we have not yet reached the next cohort of users known as the mass market.?

It?s that mass market that Twitter sees as the key to future success. It?s why the company overhauled its homepage in April, why it introduced an ?Instant Timeline? to give new users immediate access to a customized experience, and why it will introduce ?Project Lightning,? a timeline that groups tweets, photos, and videos around experiences rather than individuals, later this year. Twitter is an information cascade; these new and upcoming features are all attempts to provide newcomers a raft, or at the very least a fashionable pair of floaties.

Twitter is an information cascade; these new and upcoming features are all attempts to provide newcomers a raft, or at the very least a fashionable pair of floaties.

?Our goal is to show more meaningful tweets and conversations faster,? said Twitter founder and interim CEO Jack Dorsey during that same call, ?whether that?s logged in or out of Twitter.?

The latest of these smaller efforts appears to be replacing the traditional star used to ?favorite? tweets with a heart. While it?s a limited trial for now, the tweak already brought out the requisite grumping from Twitter?s diehard fans.

The concern is misguided for a few reasons. Hearts are intrinsically different from stars, sure, but they?re also much clearer in what they represent. A star can be a superlative, yes, but also a bookmark or a brush-off. A heart carries no such ambiguities. It says I like this in a way that someone who has never heard of Twitter can easily intuit. More important, it provides a clear payoff.

Read more at?WIRED