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.
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.
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).
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.
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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