The Twitter redesign - it's about the people

Yes, the Twitter redesign is different. No, there are parts of it I don't like either. But yes, it is better for Twitter.  Too much is being made of how it's changing too much and it's not the same way it was 5 years ago.  People say the same thing about Facebook, and last time I checked, they're doing pretty well.

Twitter is not the same service it was even 2 years ago.  Twitter has changed from what was essentially a combination of a text messaging replacement and a group messaging system to a communication platform.  It has evolved far beyond what anyone, myself included, thought it could.  The recent changes to Twitter make that more evident than ever.  Twitter has become more about connecting people and discovering information.  It should be no surprise that "connect" and "discover" are two words that feature prominently in the new Twitter design, but more on that later.

As simple of a concept as Twitter is, it actually hit a point where it did become very complicated to use, especially for newer users.  The first time you see "RT @wunderbar this #coke commercial is so #winning: bit.ly/1234" (note that is not a real link), how are you supposed to make sense of that?  RT, what does that even mean?  What is the email sign doing there? why are we putting pound signs in front of random words, and what is this bit.ly thing?  It may seem trivial to those of us who have been using Twitter for years, and in some cases literally invented some of those things.  (@replies, hashtags, and retweeting were all originally things users did to try to overcome shortcomings of the service that Twitter eventually embraced and built into the service.)  Twitter, in all of the simplicity, was becoming complicated.  The new design is there specifically to tty to make it simple and more accessible again.

Twitter's new design is focused on 4 things.  Home, connect, discover, and Me.  Home is pretty self explanatory, that is where your twitter feed is, and where you will spend most of your time.  Connect, or @connect as it is branded, combines things like suggested followers, replies, and retweets.  this is very akin to the "activity" feed that twitter launched a few months ago.  I didn't like the concept of the activity feed before, but after looking at it for a few days now, I can see the value.  It is a good tool to see everything that is happening related to you, including who has started following you.  the "Me" part is also very simple, that is your profile page. In an unfortunate UI choice that is also where Direct Messages are now found.  I *really* dislike that, and hope that they move DM's to somewhere more obvious soon.  Having them in the profile page is stupid at best.

Discover, or #discover, is the most interesting part of the redesign.  One of the most powerful features of Twitter has always been the ability to search twitter to find out what people are talking about, right now.  The power of being able to see what thousands or millions of people are saying at the same time about the same thing cannot be under-estimated.  Whether it be during the Egyptian revolution in the spring of 2011, current news events, sporting events, or elections, the ability to do this is something that we have simply never had before.  Twitter has been trying to harness this power for a long time.  Summize was the first way to search Twitter, and it was so good that Twitter bought it way back in 2008.  From there, Twitter introduced Trending Topics, which aimed to show what the most talked about things were on Twitter as they were happening.  #Discover is the evolution of that.  Discover takes trending topics and evolves them.  No longer about providing just the topic itself, but to provide some context.  Beside the trending topics will be news stories about them, integrated into the page.  It is an interesting new use, and one that I do think will put the idea of the hashtag, trending topics, and search into the forefront of how people use Twitter, as it is much more streamlined.

Twitter also overhauled their apps.  Twitter for iPhone, Twitter for Android, and Tweetdeck all received significant updates.  Twitter for iPhone and Android have nearly identical UI, and integrate the new features.  Now, I've never been a big Twitter for Android user, but I have been forcing myself to use it for the last few days.  I can say that I don't hate it, but that I wish it performed faster.  It is faster than it was before, but I think I still prefer Tweetdeck for Android.  I'm going to keep using Twitter for a while, but I see myself going back to Tweetdeck shortly.

Tweetdeck is another matter.  Tweetdeck has always been known as the power users' Twitter.  It was powerful and could do more than 95% of users would ever need, and had more customization options than I even knew what to do with.  Tweetdeck, like Twitter, was overly complicated, and too complicated for most users to even understand.  Twitter bought Tweetdeck recently, and released Tweetdeck 1.0.  This has been very controversial, because Tweetdeck has taken some of that power away.  Gone are some of the customization options.  Gone is some of the features such as Foursquare account support, and most of the Facebook support has been cut.  The UI, while similar, has been completely overhauled.  Things are now displayed inline instead of in another column or as a focus stealing picture frame, which is consistent with the rest of the Twitter UI.  Searching is now easier, and the information is displayed in a way that is easier to see.

That doesn't mean that it is all good.  There are many changes to the UI which I frankly hate.  How columns are handled now is frankly terrible.  instead of a simple horizontal slider to move between columns, especially when you have a number of them, has been replaced with large buttons at either side of the end columns, switching between 2-3 at a time.  It is a very unfortunate UI choice which takes away many of the great advantages the column layout has.

some of the options taken away will be missed, and power users will complain that getting to others takes an extra mouse click or two compared to previous versions.  Some will dislike that the colour scheme cannot be customized, and some will dislike how it has been "dumbed down" somewhat.  Personally, i'm going to miss some of it too, but the changes to Tweetdeck and Twitter are much more positive than they are negative.

When thinking about the changes to Twitter, I've tried to look at it through someone else's eyes.  One thing that is easy to forget, especially for power users, is that Twitter is not being made just for us anymore.  It is being made so anyone can jump into it and not feel overwhelmed.  Twitter is a platform, and a platform has to appeal to everyone.  That means making it more accessible, which is what it is now.  While it has lost some of the "power" that it had before, I would argue that Twitter now has even more power, because there will be even more people using it, and the real power of Twitter is in the people.  If 100 million new people join Twitter after this re-design, which is possible, and even likely, that means that there are 100 million more people to search.  I said at the beginning that the real power of twitter is in the ability to find out what people are talking about right now.  The more people there are talking about things, the better a metric it is.  That is what Twitter wants.

Now, let's not kid ourselves.  Twitter is a business, and the real reason for this redesign is advertising.  Twitter has been experimenting with promoted items for a long time and this only makes it easier.  Brands and companies are easier to promote now, the #Discover page really begs for advertisers to attach their news stories to trending topics, and the @connect page will make it even easier for Twitter to suggest new people and brands for a person to follow.  This is a brilliant move by Twitter simply because it will make advertising on the service much more valuable without compromising much of the user experience.

I don't mind the dumbing down of the Twitter service, I don't even mind the prospect of more advertising, as long as the result brings me a better service than it was before.  While the changes last week have been very jarring, and change the service more than some people like, overall Twitter is a better service today than it was two weeks ago.  The power of Twitter is in the people, and that is evident now more than ever.

Playing politics on social media

Politics and religion.  If you ask your parents or grandparents the two things that should never be talked about among family, that that is it.  They will say that no good can some from talking about politics or religion in large groups, because often times someone will have a strong opinion that most others will not like, and that it can divide and break families because there are such strong feelings on the subject.  And apparently, they were right.

 

The 2008 presidential election was widely regarded as the coming out party for social media use in politics.  President Obama successfully used Facebook and Twitter to help him get the youth vote.  Now how much that actually helped can be debated, since many people would argue that he was going to win that election anyway, but the sheer effectiveness of the use of social media cannot be denied.  Obama and his staff clearly understood how important those types of tools are to reach the younger generations, the ones that are more and more becoming the voting bracket that will decided elections.  Their depth of understanding is evident based on the frustration that Obama's administration has had with the restrictive tech policies of the US government.  Obama basically had to beg and plead to be able to have a BlackBerry after he became President, and even after he won, his BlackBerry is heavily encrypted and can only communicate with a handful of other phones/devices.

There were even glimpses of use of social media during the 2008 federal election in Canada, which was a few weeks prior to the American one.  It wasn't nearly as prevalent, but the people that were on social media used it to talk, debate, and learn about the issues. Those politicians who used them had a much more engaged community of voters.

The community of people on social media, Twitter especially, was much different in 2008.  During the 2008 Canadian and Federal Elections I was able to have active, constructive debates and discussions with people from all over the country, continent, and sometimes even planet about things that were happening in those campaigns.  It felt good to be able to engage with a group of people who didn't simply engage in partisan politics.  Regardless of who people supported, we could talk, and not berate each other.  I will never forget the night of the US election in 2008.  I was alone in a hotel room in Moncton, New Brunswick, and I was able to watch on TV, as well as engage on Twitter as results came in.  I felt much more connected to what was happening that I would have been had I simply been alone in a hotel room with no real communications tool.  that day really changed my thoughts and opinions on Twitter, and was the first time that I felt that it was really something that could change how people communicate, and I think I was right.

Now, let's fast foward to late 2010 and 2011.  The use of Facebook and Twitter has exploded.  There are 750 million Facebook accounts and 250 Million Twitter accounts.  Almost every politician, or at least their campaign/staff office, has a twitter account.  The level of engagement it much higher, especially with the youth vote, than it was 15 years ago.  Not everyone uses social media effectively, but I think it is obvious that it can't be ignored anymore, and at least one person working for most politicians seems to agree.

Now, the community that participates in social media today is, as mentioned quite different than 2008.  The main reason for this is simply tonnage.  There are more people on social media now than there were 3 years ago, and because of that there are more voices, and that is not always a good thing.  I subscribe to two different theories that apply to social media today.  One is that a person alone can be smart, but people are significantly less smart.  That is the mob mentality.  The other is John Gabriel's Greater Internet Theory.  I'll let you look that up specifically, but the SFW version of it is that giving someone anonymity and a large audience usually ends badly.

Because of the sheer volume of people who now actively use Facebook, Twitter, etc. I find that it is much harder to be able to talk about anything political, or really, any controversial topic there anymore; especially Twitter.  On election day in Canada in 2010, I took to Twitter, like countless others did, to be part of the conversation.  But I found that nearly everything I said was met with responses from people that bordered on hostile.  Even when I was simply tweeting the current results of the election and how many seats each party was leading in, I had responses that ranged from "THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER" to "WHAT ARE PEOPLE DOING I'M MOVING TO MEXICO." A simple tweet of "Conservatives only 15 seats from a majority" was met with the most hostile response, claiming that people like me were ruining the country, and that I should have been ashamed of myself for voting for Stephen Harper's Conservatives.  The worst one told me that by voting conservative I had given my support to taking away a woman's right to choose to have an abortion.  I was simply stunned, mainly because I have never once told anyone who I have voted for in any election I have voted in since I was 18.  People assumed that I had voted Conservative simply because I said that they were only 15 seats away from a majority.  I would have said the same thing had the NDP or Liberal been in that position.  I guess I would have been accused of voting for them in that case.  Partisan Politics have invaded social media in a big way, and in a way that is detrimental to the overall experience of using that social media.

Let's now come to today.  In Edmonton there is a big debate happening about a new downtown arena.  I'm not going to turn this into a debate about whether or not public funds should go into the arena, but every time I have given my opinion on Twitter on what I think, I'm always met with a few responses that simply tell me that I'm wrong, and that I don't know what I'm talking about.  Now honestly, that's fine, tell me you disagree with me, but then tell me why, or give me your idea.  People who know me know that I love having a good, constructive debate with anyone, but as social media has exploded in popularity, that is becoming harder and harder.

It comes back to the mob mentality.  The larger the group or audience, the more likely we are to have bad apples in that group.  For me, this has changed how I use social media.  It won't stop me from talking about things sometimes, and I still use it to follow current events of course, but how I actually engage is changing.  I don't actively engage in debate over politics anymore, and when I do, it is very limited.  I'm not going to stop entirely, but I'm learning to pick my spots a lot more, and for those that do reply with useless responses, well the block button is a wonderful thing.

Social Media is a revolution, in both a good way and a bad way.  I've talked many times about how I love social media and have found many good uses for it, as well as how it has changed how I interact with people.  Social Media has literally saved lives, and let people connect in ways that simply did not exist 5 years ago, and that is a wonderful thing.  But as it has opened to more and more people, the regular conventions of conversation now apply, more than ever.

Politics and religion people, politics and religion.

The Edmonton Twitter Community - what makes it good, and why we have been noticed.

I'm not going to lie, this post is 100% inspired by this blog post by Adriel Hampton (@adreilhampton). Mr. Hampton is a "journalist, Gov 2.0 and new media strategist, public servant, and licensed private investigator" in San Francisco. His blog post highlighted the Edmonton Twitter community, known by our hashtag of #yeg, as a wonderful example of how a good Twitter can be built.

I'm not going to lie, this post is 100% inspired by this blog post by Adriel Hampton (@adreilhampton). Mr. Hampton is a "journalist, Gov 2.0 and new media strategist, public servant, and licensed private investigator" in San Francisco. His blog post highlighted the Edmonton Twitter community, known by our hashtag of #yeg, as a wonderful example of how a good Twitter can be built.

I've never much thought about it before, likely because I'm so engrained in the community myself, but Twcommunityitter really has brought Edmonton closer together than ever. Not only do ordinary people use twitter, but several local TV and radio personalities use twitter as well, to directly interact with the community. This has allowed for a more direct approach to them, and personally makes me feel much more connected to those organizations, because often times I can say something to them, or ask a question, and get a real, personal response.

So often what makes Twitter great is the people you interact with. What has really solidified it for me is the people I have met, face to face. I think that's part of what make our community unique, and has really added a more personal touch. The fact that I've actually met, and spent time with, the people I'm having a conversation with on Twitter adds an extra depth of meaning to what we are talking about. Sure it's easy to talk to someone through Twitter, but taking the time to actually get to know personally has transformed my perception of the service. I know one of my goals for 2010 is to go out to more of our Twitter meetups than I have been this year. The friendships and connections that are being built there are too valuable to ignore. Part of that goal is to try to get even more people to come out to those meetups. There are hundreds of people on Twitter in the Edmonton area, but for most of our large meetups we are getting 30-40 participants. There are new faces every time, which is good, but the more personal the experience becomes, the more powerful Twitter becomes. Twitter may be one of the more powerful communication tools of the decade, and leveraging it's power is something that can be very useful.

Edmonton owes a lot to Mack Male (@mastermaq) for really kickstarting the community. Without him, it would not be where it is today, and he is still one of the leaders. If you are in Edmonton, and not following him, you should be. If something is happening in Edmonton, chances are he's tweeted about it.

2009 was the breakout year for Twitter, and here in Edmonton, we embraced it and took it to an entirely new level. I absolutely cannot wait to see what 2010 brings.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go get ready for our #yeg holiday meetup tonight. Hope to see you there. Info can be found here.

[ Read ] - Blog Post from Adriel Hampton

EDIT: fixed some font size and colour weirdness.