Yesterday we told you Twitter (TWTR) is trying to make itself easier to use.
Right now, Twitter’s core appeal is to people obsessed with the media, sports celebrities and tech. Conversely, your mom is probably not on Twitter.
That’s a problem because up to 1 billion people — moms included — have tried Twitter and largely abandoned it, leaving the service struggling to find new users. In the last quarter, Twitter added only 1 million users in the U.S. (Facebook, for comparison, added double that number even though it is much older than Twitter and largely matured as an American network years ago.)
CEO Dick Costolo believes part of the problem may be the way software code symbols like “@” and “#” are frequently used on Twitter. It may be hard to believe if you work in Silicon Valley or Manhattan, but millions of normal people just don’t know — or care — what a “hashtag” is.
Here’s what’s broken.
Functions like @, #, RT, MT and #FF are meaningless to most people. Twitter needs to be conducted in plain English if it is to grow beyond its 241 million users. Other social media like Facebook and Tumblr use hot links or highlights if you reply or mention others on those sites — but the words themselves are largely unadorned by code symbols.
2. Twitter punishes you for replying
The beauty of Twitter — you’re constrained to 140 character per message — sometimes becomes ugly if you’re trying to reply to more than one person at once. Twitter handles count as part of those 140 letters, severely limiting your ability to reply to them coherently. Note that on Instagram, no one is constrained to short messages, but users generally only publish short messages because the system is designed in such a way to encourage them.
3. Twitter is useless for group messaging.
One of the reasons messaging apps like WhatsApp are so popular is that it’s impossible to have a group message conversation on Twitter because usernames take up all the conversation space. Twitter has largely ceded this function to other messaging apps.
4. The direct message function is genuinely confusing.
Anthony Weiner screwed up the difference between an @reply and a direct message, and now New York has a different mayor. You can use a “d:” function to send a direct message to another user that won’t be seen by others but … so many people have screwed this up that “Twitter DM fail” is its own meme. Every single social and messaging app on the planet has made direct messaging super simple and super safe. Twitter should follow suit.
5. You begin with zero friends.
A Business Insider reader noted recently that “Everyone who signs up begins with exactly 0 followers, which makes every new user a LOSER.” It’s true — open a new Twitter account and none of your friends are there. The desktop version does not ask to pull friends from your email contact lists. You have to go searching for them yourself. This is work.
6. Even if you have some friends, you quickly learn you are not popular.
Twitter becomes a lot more fun if you start to attract a sizeable following. Anyone can become “Twitter famous,” but that takes a lot of work and originality. Generally, people do not want social media to become a chore. They want it to be easy. So there are two classes of Twitter users: Famous people like celebrities or journalists whose jobs generate a stream of new content, and everyone else. “Everyone else” is not where you want to be. Facebook, by contrast, lets anyone be “popular” because the vast majority of people already have a couple hundred friends, family members and coworkers they can add to their network.
7. You can’t see your entire follower list at once.
If you’ve ever wanted to see a lit of all the people you’re following — or all your followers — you’re out of luck. You can click to get the list, but it comes up as an endless scroll, and one mistake click sends you right back to the beginning. It’s difficult to sort them, too.
8. It takes too many clicks to navigate around Twitter.
Twitter often requires users to click or tap twice or more to get to the thing they’re actually interested in. This occurs most frequently when you click on someone’s name on Twitter, and instead of getting a list of their tweets you get a truncated summary of their account. You have to click again on their tweet stream to see what they’re saying. This is a user-interface tic with Twitter, the New York Times noted that to see a video users often have to click three times before arriving at the content they want.
9. Fix search.
Twitter search is great for finding out what is happening on Twitter right now. It’s terrible if you want to find old tweets, your own old tweets, or to search the tweet archive of a single individual. Search remains the universal way in which navigation on the web and on mobile is conducted, so getting this wrong is a strategic issue.