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TweetDeck stream of consciousness

Preamble

In my opinion, Twitter is a powerful vehicle for synchronous communication (Asychronous = e-mail; Synchronous = AIM). It’s happening in real-time, and while it’s often called a micro-blogging platform, I think that’s a misnomer. It’s quite different than a blog — a centralized stream of content curated by one or many people. By contrast, Twitter is highly ubiquitous and conglomerate by design, not centralized and siloed like blogs. At any given moment in time, you get a snapshot of varied, layered, multiway conversations happening in your stream; an immediate, collective pulse reading of the people who matter to you.

Despite popular belief, I’m not always paying attention to Twitter and therefore I’m not always engaging. Lots of interesting stuff happens that I’ll never find out about, and that’s okay. I gave up trying to backtrack months ago. I used to wake up in the morning and read everything that had been said while I was sleeping. But now I follow too many people (264 currently), and it’s futile. Besides, hours after the conversation has passed, my response loses relevance. It’s rare that I look back more than an hour now. I don’t know about you, but thoughts fly out of my head at a rapid pace, so something I tweeted about two or more hours ago is most likely a distant memory. Topics that I think deeply about and process over an extended period of time are more likely to be blog posts than tweets, and I assume the same is true for other people — or else they’ll tweet about it so often that I’ll be able to chime into the conversation later.

About TweetDeck

So with all of the aforementioned in mind, let’s talk about TweetDeck. Simply put, I think it’s misconceived.

TweetDeck is a desktop application (Adobe AIR) with a sovereign posture to view your Twitter stream. That means it takes up your whole damn screen, unless you switch to the 1-column view, which pretty much defeats its purpose entirely (more on that in a bit). TweetDeck’s major differentiation from Twhirl and Twitterific and the like is its “Group” feature, which allows you to filter your stream by organizing friends into groups.

For instance, I created a “UX Peeps” group containing folks like @jmspool, @mediajunkie, @brownorama, and @livlab (just the top of my stream, I’m not playing favorites!), and a group for “NYC Tweeps” with @mokindo @ooonie, @innonate and @askrom. Now there’s some overlap there because Chris Fahey (askrom), for instance, belongs to both groups, so I see his tweets in multiple columns.


NOTE: about half of the people I’m following weren’t listed here.

A good UX starts with a well-defined user goal

Whenever I evaluate a new product — app, device, website, whatever — my first question is, “What is the user’s goal?” I think about the most common use cases and examine how the designed solution meets the user’s need. In the case of TweetDeck, I have to guess that the Group functionality was born out of a desire to provide additional context to or make sense of a diverse and voluminous Twitter stream. Following 150+ people, or even one person who’s prolific can quickly become overwhelming. That’s why I’m actually quite particular about who I follow; I want their tweets to really mean something to me, be insightful or at least be a worthwhile distraction when I choose to check in.

HOWEVER, the randomness of the stream, the pertinence of real-time activity in backwards chronicle order, the fact that it’s a place where I periodically check in and not my main focal point throughout the day is what makes Twitter so compelling. When you start filtering tweets by context, you lose that magic.

Application posture

I can concede that not everyone uses Twitter in the way I do. Maybe you check in far less frequently. Maybe you follow many more people. Maybe you just can’t keep up :) But then please tell me, why oh why would you be using a desktop app to read tweets? A web app is much more suitable for periodic use, and the fact that it’s transient lets you get away with temporarily using greater screen real estate. Desktop apps with sovereign posture are best reserved for expert, concentration-needed tools like Excel, Photoshop and data dashboards. But a tool that has a single function that meets transient needs should have a transient posture.

By default TweetDeck basically takes up the entire screen (it’s resizable, but the visual design makes it almost impossible to discover that). It allows you to add or remove columns to your heart’s content, using a horizontal scrollbar to navigate between them, but you can still only see three panels at a time. Sure, there’s a single-column view, but you still have to scroll to see the other columns. There’s no Recent/Replies/Directs/Archive toggle like in Twhirl, and the horizontal swipe on the MacBook Air touchpad doesn’t work (though this may be an Adobe AIR thing).

Imagined context

Furthermore, can people really categorize their Twitter friends into neat little piles? I’m always surprised by the overlap in my networks. It’s a network, after all. Endless connections between endless nodes, always expanding, bending, breaking, regenerating. People meet. People move. People switch careers. People get busy. People get boring. People get involved. What is the value to qualifying how you relate to people based on the characteristics of an innumerable number of contexts? It would take so much management! And now with TweetDeck I have multiple streams to follow, requiring me to scroll down in multiple columns in order to read recent tweets. Sure you can say there’s always the “All Tweets” panel, but then what was the purpose of creating groups in the first place? And if you don’t want to read someone’s tweets all the time, don’t follow them! Just go to their Twitter.com page when you feel like it and see what they’re up to lately. If you aren’t going to engage in real-time, there is no point to having the person in your stream.

Recap

So to summarize: I can understand the use case, but I think TweetDeck is the wrong solution. If it were a transient posture desktop app with the functionality of Twhirl and the ability to filter by group, OR if it were an asynchronous web app that gave me a point-in-time look into the thoughts of like-minded people in my stream, maybe then I’d see what all the fuss was about.

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  • http://andypiper.co.uk andy piper

    I have to say I completely agree. To me, Twitter is a stream to dip in and out of and I don’t want it taking over my desktop. Some great analysis here Whitney.

  • http://www.newmediabuzz.com Michael Leis

    Double agree. You have to respect the real estate you’re taking first and foremost. I’ll really have to check out TweetDeck now!

    Who is that dashing man giving @mediajunkie a hard time? :)

    Thanks for another good read.

  • http://www.wonderwheelcreative.com Tim Merrill

    Nice post, Whitney. I agree with you on almost all counts. I’ve been using TweetDeck exclusively for a week now, and haven’t found many benefits over Twhirl. As you mention, having to now check multiple streams is a net loss in productivity.

    That said, I think a simple UI change could turn things around. If the groups were tabbed (or buttoned, a la Twhirl), you’d need far less real estate and would have a nice way to reduce the chatter *when necessary*. For example, I have a regional group that really helps me follow a conversation among local Twitterers.

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

  • Meryl Steinberg

    Another good analysis. I see Twitter as a ticker tape — a place to get info and feel the pulse of what it going on amongst a variety of different groups of people who share my interests (and some who don’t). Liked TD at first, then lost interest for same reasons you describe.

  • http://www.toadstoolblog.com Alan Wolk

    I’ll see your double agree Leis, and raise you one;)

    I downloaded Tweetdeck after hearing a couple of “power users” praise it.

    Looked at it for about 5 minutes and discarded it, for all the reasons you mention.

    I can’t fathom following thousands of people the way some others do. (If nothing else, my real friends tweets would sink to page 4 in a matter of minutes!)

    Tweetdeck takes up too much real estate. It’s not easy to classify people without overlap (and don’t get me started on the whole Plaxo “Friend or Business” thing) and the functionality seems well-intentioned, but ultimately pointless, since you’re getting the same number of tweets, only in different places on your screen.

    The beauty of Twhirl is that it sits in the background where I can ignore it or check it, depending on how busy I am. Twhirl (and its predecessor, Snitter) are what made Twitter work for me in the first place.

    Very nice dissection of the app, btw.

  • http://www.carol.com Nathan Rice

    Although I am a big fan of the possibilities of Air and what it can do. For example I love Nike’s running experience with Ipod. And maybe that is the point. Combining tweets into a desktop application simply is not a good experience – or at least I have not seen one. Rather see them come and go on my Blackberry so I can wander in and out.

  • http://twitter.com/sharigoetsch Shari

    I completely disagree.

    Before TweetDeck added the url shortening upgrade today, I had both Twhirl and TD running together so I could read from one and tweet from the other. Now, I think Twhirl will stay closed for a while.

    The full TD screen is super easy to dip in and out of. Alt+Tab. Check in, check out. What’s nice about the full screen is reviewing your topics of choice (see below) and the all tweets screen at a glance.

    Many users, like yourself and the other posters, prefer a single column. The second most popular request on TweetDeck’s feedback forum is to develop a single column view with tabs. Go vote! You can make it happen.

    Another upgrade, currently in process, introduces a pop-up window to show new tweets, Twhirl style.

    Grouping might be handy if you have friends and family, or news feeds, that are clearly distinguishable – but I think you’re right, in general, the chaos of consciousness is part of the value. I haven’t attempted to use this function.

    My favorite new feature is a dedicated column on a topic (not a group, a topic) of your choice. Do a Summize, er Twitter, search on keywords of your interest, and suddenly you’re following a conversation – without the hassle of your browser! Interested to see what people have to say on TweetDeck the day before you publish your post? Create a column for a Summize TweetDeck search. This feature, I love.

    Another thing I like about TweetDeck: it does a better job of introducing me to people. The pictures are bigger and the profiles are easy to read. It’s more personal.

    Remember, it’s only a beta. Vote for your improvements by following the link below. Let’s specify the user goals.

    http://tweetdeck.uservoice.com/pages/general?referrer=popin

  • http://makethelogobigger.blogspot.com bg

    Agree. ;-p Late to the comment party, so here goes.

    Seems like two issues at work, the quick-hit nature of a Twitter update and the apps used to scan them all.

    Tiwtter by it’s nature forces changes in the way people write about what they think. At times, it’s great, at others, shorthand takes over and nuiance is lost. (You can say IM has it's own shorthand, but that’s in the individual words, not the overall thoughts of a sentence. If I said something on IM that was confusing, at least I have far more room to explain myself, not to mention the issue of immediacy it offers, unlike Twitter. Another issue perhaps for another time.)

    The apps available are popping up everywhere. I generally try everything that comes out once just to see if I like it, then I move on. Funny thing is I find now that I use Twitter online for messaging but more often than not, use Twhirl and other desktop apps for the features Twitter lacks. (Like when it comes to followers or tracking, etc.

  • http://makethelogobigger.blogspot.com bg

    And to Alan’s point, I understand about following thousands, but in many ways, I like having a stream of thoughts in front of me. Many times I’ll pick up useful links or quotes from an unexpected source. I find it easier to do that when drawing form a larger pool of updates.

    (I track particular people at times to see what they’ve been saying, and usually, I know the regulars I follow can always be counted on to post something cool, so I have them to fall back on them if the general public lets me down. ;-p

  • http://www.club-penguin.org/ Club Penguin Cheats

    I agree with you on almost all counts. I've been using TweetDeck exclusively for a week now, and haven't found many benefits over Twhirl. As you mention, having to now check multiple streams is a net loss in productivity.