Thoughts on Twitter [WIP] What I would do to save a beloved product

Okay, I’m Awake.

It’s the middle of the night at 2:00 am, an intriguing thought brought me out of a deep sleep: What if I was VP of Product at Twitter? What followed was an email to myself, recorded on my iPhone on August 7th (then edited several times with some help by @mkhoury):

Please note:  I understand Twitter is a complex platform for multiple devices, available globally in a vast array of languages. I am sure some of what I am going to talk about isn’t possible across everything, so I focused on what was in my hand, the iPhone application. I have taken vast and obvious feasibility assumptions and have thrown them out the window with a view that anything is possible. This is still a work in progress.

The status quo.

What now exists on the iOS platform is clean and engaging. The layout is simple and based on company DNA around the tweet — the single 140 character or less message that can now support other media types. If you have been a user of Twitter for several years or more, you watched the natural progression of these features. My concern, one I have for many products that have reached scale, is the company has a fear of large changes that could disrupt an established audience. I think Twitter has fallen prey to this thinking, even though they are in the perfect place to be radical with both features and functionality. Although I don’t think they are dying (I am a shareholder) I think they are close to getting handed their hat by messenger and other communication clients.

I think Twitter has lost its way. Are they a communication tool, a media platform, a news aggregator, a television or event feedback tool, a customer service platform and now a commerce platform? I don’t think they know.

Current Twitter iOS Application Screens v6.35.1
Current Twitter iOS Application Screens v6.35.1

The idea.

It’s time to embrace the fact that Twitter is all of these and more. Twitter can also grow beyond its current features, so everything needs to be flexible and expandable but still based on the simple premise of a tweet. Just this time, with feeling.

twitter-navigationMy idea is to start with a new layout of the primary navigation, clearly defining areas of interest and logical separation for the user. Then, introduce features that are pleasing to use, mostly automatic and incorporated into the workflow and use cases for each section. It all starts at the bottom: the application wide navigation will feature a new bottom of the screen interface using Twitter’s iconic bird as center “Home” button. This is the default option that is loaded each time the application is launched unless a deep link is used. This is the “feed” as we know it today. To the right of the Feed are Conversations and Profile from left to right. To the left of the Feed is Explore and Events, from right to left. Notifications are moved to the top, next to add users on the left, search and new tweet action icons remain on the right.

The Feed.

This is still Twitter: a centralized and time based feed of tweets and content from your network remains almost unchanged. I feel it can be better, so cleaning up the macro and micro interactions will be key. All content that is available will be shown in the feed. All public conversations are logically grouped, and tweet storms are now turned into long form content, without interruption from other tweets. Long form content will only show a summary of the content, allowing a user to expand the content if desired. Content attached to a tweet can be viewed easily, inline including playing videos and photos from all sources. All content types are shown and if more views are needed (photo galleries, urls, video, etc) an overlay card can be used to view each. This provides a new way to show extra content types, products, services and features for the platform. It also allows new space for additional platform interactions.

Additional fixes to the current features of the feed are needed to make it easier for users to engage with content:

  • URL’s don’t count against a tweets character count (however there are limits to how many can be used)
  • Content is shown in its original dimensions (upload limits could be enforced).
  • Replies are shown inline, when submitted and always carry the conversation with them, they can be accessed in the feed if they are public and in the conversations view (both public and private conversations are available there).
  • User avatars are larger across the platform and included over original content when shared, including attribution.

Explore.

To the left is the new media browser “Explore.” This new media browser shows only content in a new view (think Instagram or Flipboard) that is mainly image based, using tweet content as overlay titles, incorporating user avatars and any link content. This view shows all photos, music, videos, Vines, etc. along with auto play and save to a playlist capabilities. Ratings are prominent on this content.

twitter-exploreThis new area allows for the visual discovery of content, through trending topics, sponsored hashtags, or new personalization features based on a users ratings.  A few other explore features will be events and around you. Events would be sponsored (think sports, etc) or based on hashtag and machine learning. Around you would be a preset filter based on location with content (sponsored, and submitted).

There’s an option for users to customize the explore area and add new topics of focus as determined by usage analytics and personal interest. Brands will be included in this content allowing users to curate shared content that includes ads.

Conversations.

To the right is the new Conversations view. This allows you to centralize all public and private conversations across the platform. Conversations are then logically arranged based on time, reply and participation. New filters can be introduced for conversations between more than 3 parties to quickly view replies or content from any of the participants.

Public conversations can be moved to private if all users opt in. Conversation tools can be added to aid in planning, including auto date identification, place identification, etc with new hashtag (& place and !date tags).

Brands can be featured prominently in the conversations view for all customer support and conversations initiated with each.

Profile.

The profile view has the current profile feature set, settings, follower and following information and a new rating score. New settings will be available for customization of the different sections of the application, including opt-ins for personalization, location use, authorization data and other new artifacts required.

The profile area can be expanded into a robust area that includes your interactions, stored playlists, favorites and transactions.

Events

Events are becoming more important to the Twitter platform, from news-worthy global protests to live broadcast television programs, events can now be centralized, personalized and participated with in this new section. Filters and topics can be personalized and introduced based on the user’s location, personalization and machine learning.

This allows users to show only the content and conversations about that event, including television and ad-based programming. From that programming, hyper-local advertising is generated along with built-in feedback channels. In countries where this isn’t valuable or popular, it could be used for news only.

Search/Filter

For every section, Search is now a prominent fixture and adapts itself based on the section it is used. The expandable search area will allow a user to focus the search on a hashtag, person, business. A world map will now also be introduced allowing a user to see tweets and content from specific areas, globally, down to a city. Tweet activity can be shown as a heat map, including color coding for news, emergency, help or sponsored events. A great use case of this feature is to focus just on information from a specific event, happening in a specific location.

The Value of a Verified Account

A new focus on verified accounts is paramount to the future of the Twitter platform. Account verification shows a user’s their real name, age (hidden), and verified status as part of their user profile (@handle doesn’t change). It also allows brands to create relevant advertisements specific to the user based on this verified information.

To verify, a user needs to enter a valid credit card and phone number (selecting if they can receive texts). Identities are easily validated by answering profile questions from Equifax or another provider (potential solutions in other countries need to be addressed).

Verified accounts opens the opportunity to conduct commerce on Twitter. By tying a credit or debit card or bank account, Twitter can be used to send money, paying for services, paying for items advertised in Twitter cards or direct person to person payments. There’s also the potential for a Square partnership.

Brands can also accept payments, as could non profits / causes all through the platform from verified users.

Conversations are now possible between all verified users and any unverified users that meet a platform threshold of interaction (algorithm based on usage, followers, etc).

API’s as a Revenue Stream

A new set of private API’s would be created to allow brands to directly interact with users through conversations. Shifting support and other help based transactions through new automation and partnerships with customer support systems like GetSat, Desk.com, ZenDesk, etc. Brands would be charged on a per interaction / per user basis. For all commerce transactions, new line item and transaction information can be added to help a user with any customer support through a brand. This could be possible through a key/ value pair storage service. This service can be expanded to other platforms and data requirements.

New OAuth requirements would include some level of data sharing with any connected application. This data would be used to help centralize and personalize the experience and help target sponsored content.

Platform development SDK’s and kits would be available to incorporate key features in other applications, including conversations, payments, and sponsored content powered by the platform for authenticated users.

Quality Content and Ratings

A new quality rating score / system would be created to rate all content, hashtags, users, ads, brands, etc to allow for quality control over the platform. Quality can then be used as a ranking method. Also included here is a voting system that can be used by brands based on submitted content / options based on the content type. Content ratings can be incorporated where needed.

User Experience

All platforms would be unified under a consistent UX pattern library, including all design and interaction patterns. All platforms would be fully accessible, multi-language and would support as many devices as possible.

Analytics

User analytics will be changed to include simple metrics around engagement, comparing you to your followers. Recommendations will be made based on usage patterns on what you can do to increase engagement.

Brand analytics will support per tweet level data, including deeper second level engagement metrics and view level accounting for new ad models.

Growth / Ad Features

Influencer / celebrity invite system that would pay partials of ad revenue based on new user acquisition and engagement metrics. This would allow sharing of original content (exclusive to Twitter) and authentication walled in the platform.

Distributed content through JS/SDK for media and news outlets, splitting as revenues for all on page content.

Live tweet events — pay for top-level filters or sort ordering.

Content creation through a new partner network. (Full integration of medium with a pay for performance system — bringing authors to the platform with distribution).

New long form ad formats, including tweet storms, content, etc.

Payment system partnerships.

I think that’s a good start.