5 changes Twitter should make that are more important than changing stars to hearts
Nov 3, 2015
4 minute read

Everyone is mocking Twitter’s change from favorites (stars) to likes (hearts). It smacks of desperation, but it makes some sense. I can imagine being a new Twitter user and thinking to myself, “WTF is a star?”

But there are more urgent and fundamental changes that Twitter should be making. Here are five of them:

Link shorteners such as bit.ly are a scourge that must be eliminated. Since Twitter uses its own t.co link shortener for every link anyway, it does not save any characters in your tweet to use another external link shortener. What using an external link shortener does accomplish is to make it non-obvious what you are clicking on. I am much less likely to click on an unknown link than I am to click on one where I can at least see the final domain it is taking me to, and I’d bet that other users would be too.

Killing off link shorteners is possible without causing any disruption to users. Twitter could automatically expand shortened URLs, updating the original tweet with the canonical link. Ending link shorteners would also have the benefit of nudging corporate users into using Twitter’s own analytics platform rather than bitly analytics.

2. More powerful server-side muting

Muting hashtags, keywords, and clients makes Twitter so much more pleasant for power users using third-party clients like Tweetbot. Unfortunately, casual users who only use the web-based Twitter client have to live with the extra noise. Yes, you can mute users, so that you can appear to follow your coworkers without actually having to read their tweets, but the bigger problem is that some of the people you want to follow also tweet a lot of nonsense. I don’t want to know what badges anybody is unlocking on Untappd. Bringing the capability to mute all such noisy tweets for casual users might make them more sticky.

3. Make Twitter search more obvious and focal

One of the most underutilized features of Twitter is search. When I write a new post or create a new web project, I often keep a search for the URL open in a new client column. That way I can see what people are saying about my post or project even if they don’t mention me.

You can also search for a domain. Any time anybody links to your site, you can see it, even if they use a link shortener. This is extremely handy. I currently have 16 Twitter saved searches that I periodically check.

Twitter search is the one area where the company is far ahead of Facebook. Twitter should leverage this superiority. One way it could do this is by creating a new tab that keeps a running feed of all saved searches co-mingled together.

4. Timeline sync API

One of the benefits to me of using a third-party client is that I can pick up reading right where I left off. When I open the app, it loads new tweets, but it doesn’t immediately move me to the top of the stream. Even better, when I use Tweetbot on both the Mac and iPhone, I can pick up on one device where I left off on the other.

Nothing like this exists if you use the web-based client. Load the page and you see only the newest tweets. Twitter should keep track of what users have read and what they haven’t in order to provide more continuity: open twitter.com and pick up where you left off.

Making the timeline location a part of Twitter’s official API would have additional benefits, lowering switching costs for users who currently use a client with non-interoperable timeline syncing.

5. Unify the social graph of Twitter, Periscope, and Vine

Video is only going to grow, and Twitter has a couple very interesting video properties: Periscope and Vine. So why in the world is it creating additional friction to getting started on these newer platforms? Let users bring their hard-won followers automatically to these new services.

And why dilute the powerful identity platform it has built with Twitter? Twitter usernames are the premiere public identifiers for people on the web. Why sever the link between Twitter handles and Periscope handles by allowing people to change them so that they don’t match?

Twitter should instead operate on the model of one account per user and one social graph across all its services. This would give it much greater likelihood of success in the emerging online video content industry.