Distressed from the Disregard

I love Twitter.com.

No, really, I love it.  A whole lot.  I love the people I’ve met there.  I love the ideas I’ve shared there.  I love the things I learn and the links I dig up.  The whole environment is exactly what I like.

The only thing that will make me fall out of love with twitter is… Twitter itself.

I tweet long and often.  I retweet any time I read something interesting or like something or laugh at something.  Some people think I’m there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because I always seem to be about.  I’m not, but with my ridiculous schedule you never have the slightest of ideas when I’m actually reading your tweets and following up with something interesting I spotted.  The reason twitter works for me is because I strictly trust it to NOT be private (and therefore anything I say on twitter is spewed to the world with a “No Genie Back in the Bottle” guarantee ™.  And also because I have found a huge network of friends-I’ve-never-met (also tm).  Counterpoint that with a service that I loathe.  My experience with privacy on Facebook has been atrocious and I refuse to use it actively.

Now, there’s a few secrets I haven’t told anyone until now.  The reason I can manage to appear to be on twitter continuously and always be ready with a reply or a joke comes from two things.
 1) I can type quickly.  I’m probably not at the 140 words per minute range anymore, but I’m guessing I can still probably pull off 100 wpm.
 2) I’m really good at using the tools at my disposal.

Lists are essential to me.  If you’re on one of my lists, it’s a good thing and I want to be certain you know it’s a good thing.  I’m at 12 lists (the maximum) and I use all of them on a regular or semi-regular basis.  I have to use them well or I’d never manage to stay sane.

I was once told, “You know, you’d have a lot more followers if you limited what you talked about and focused on one or two things.“  I just slightly regret not splitting the political with the astronomy-and-the-rest accounts because they are somewhat separate and apart.  In the process, I’ve found so many of my politically-oriented friends are interested in the science that interests me, or ask me questions about the cool stuff I RT.  I’ve had dozens of space tweeps ask me about curling when it was on during the Olympics and I was able to make the point that curling looks graceful and easy for Olympic athletes, but for us league curlers do it for fun and exercise and we’d get slaughtered if we played against any of those teams.  Forming relationships in the minutia of day to day life is where twitter has excelled.

I don’t care about my follower count, I care that I’m communicating with cool and interesting people.  I care that I’m discovering awesome ideas and learning new things.  I don’t care if you’re put off that I’m talking about space and then my kids and then curling and then local politics and then the latest security software for your computer and then the clouds going overhead.  These are the things that make up me.  The total of all of this (and more) makes up the whole of me.  You get a window into the person that I am.

So what’s happening with the diminishing love as of late?

It’s going back to last March, really.  Twitter has been going through some internal changes with the way it operates with outside software.  Part of this has been twitter saying a few select clients are to be blessed as official and they don’t want a pile of new clients confusing the ecosystem.  It was a terrible mistake from twitter and it severely hurt a large component of the good will and community that made twitter great in the first place.

My favourite twitter client is (was) called Nambu.  It was built specifically for Macs - not for Windows or Linux, although it could have easy been moved over to other platforms with enough time and money.  By being specific to one platform (ie “Native on a Mac”) it performed as a twitter client exceptionally in a Mac environment.  It looked great, it behaved great, but most importantly to me, it allowed me to use my tools in a way that was extremely productive.

I used it as shown here:

You can change the layout, but this is the one that really works for me.  On the left are my two accounts: @Zarquil and @BetterYYC.  I can see instantly through the tree how many unread messages in each category.  Lists open up like the searches have in the photo and it’s no time at all to flit from interesting thing to interesting thing.

But the real magic is that Nambu has built in translation.  I literally follow people from around the world, some of my favourites are @Miu___ and @geeky_teacher who are not from English speaking countries.  Nambu makes it easy to stay in touch even when they’re tweeting in Japanese or Spanish.  A tool that works for me, that makes my life easier and more complete.  Awesome.

Except the Nambu team gave up on twitter.  Presumably the changes became too onerous and they no longer felt welcome in the twitter ecosystem.  And it’s a shame.

I understand where twitter is coming from.  They want all their users to feel comfortable and have everything feel pretty much the same no matter which tool they use.  They feel that there’s enough interesting projects on the fringes that they don’t need a hundred thousand twitter clients with their own unique ways of presenting tweets.  Twitter figures that they are going to eventually create the perfect interface and all the other clients are “filling in gaps” that twitter itself will eventually get around to.

And there, they are now dead wrong.

The problem is that twitter has the hubris to believe they (and only they) can get it right.  They haven’t, they cannot.  You cannot be all things to all people.  You shouldn’t even try.  You cannot protect your business interests if you are driving away your customers with a substandard experience.

Nambu works for me because the interface is laid out perfectly for the way I use twitter.  Twitter’s interface looks nothing like that and it is much, much harder for me to effectively participate at the level I did before.  I have to click and search to get lists.  I cannot flip rapidly between searches to keep up with what’s happening in real time.  Twitter does not have a button to click (or more ideally, a keyboard shortcut) I can use to translate foreign language tweets from people I love to read.  My replies don’t autocomplete usernames, I have less control of retweets, I can’t mute topics of disinterest, the entire experience is substandard.

We’re not talking gaps in the twitter interface.  We’re talking huge, massive gaping holes you can lose a Narn Heavy Cruiser in.  Things that are essential to me, but may not matter to you at all.  It’s an obscenity of hubris that they believe I can only use twitter in the fashion they imagine.

Harming the relationships with your users is what will eventually destroy your service.  My relationship with twitter is not only with twitter, but also through Nambu.  By harming twitter’s relationship with Nambu, twitter has harmed their relationship with me.  Hopefully another service such as identi.ca (where I’ve been establishing more of a technical relationship) may be able to step forward and my friends from twitter will find ways to re-establish their relationship with me through a medium that is more respectful of it’s diverse users.  The relationship between the users - my friends - is more important than our relationship with twitter itself.

Why am I mentioning this?  Am I threatening to leave twitter?  Am I building a new service or a new client?  No.  I’m happy, for now, but my productivity has dropped significantly and I’m missing some of the connections I used to make easily though a better user experience Nambu brought me.  Now I have no other option I’m happy with.

The reason I am mentioning this is that twitter is just the example.  The same hubris is happening all over the place.  Firefox has went to a rapid release cycle - not a bad thing in and of itself, but the side effects are killing me and the user experience is worse than ever.  The bugs that are affecting me are not getting fixed and some are actually getting worse.  My former bank has the hubris to feel that I need to fit into their new style accounts rather than the account they won’t let me have any more because it doesn’t fit their business goals.  My experience is horrible and I found a bank that offered a better experience.

Any time our choices get restricted without good alternatives is a bad experience.  When your users or your customers are complaining about the bad experience we perceive and you treat us like we’re wrong and our concerns are unimportant, you are setting yourself up for spectacular failure.

There are two take home lessons here.  If you are outright ignoring a segment of your user base, no matter how small it may appear, you risk alienating the most influential segment of your user base and risk failing to improve, failing to succeed, and quite possibly the failure to even exist into the future.

The other lesson is that if you are a user and a service is providing you with a diminished experience, it is your duty to complain and complain loudly.  If the service is unresponsive and you have exhausted your options and your patience, it is time to look for other options.  Other options are always out there.  Even when they have to be built up from nothing.