Apr 15, 2014
Alienating core users is always the biggest risk associated with changes in user experience and platform design. On the flip side, networks that fail to see the next innovation coming and adjust accordingly lose users as well (see Myspace).
Twitter has a problem. Okay it has a few, but let's begin with the elephant in the room. People really like pictures and this makes Twitter very insecure. It's true, all its' social competitors boast rich visual heavy content and Twitter’s Home screen just can’t compete, but should it have to? I say no!
There is a reason that despite a much smaller user base, Twitter still trumps Facebook as the most efficient source for breaking news and industry relevant content. In these regards, its text heavy design actually plays to its' advantage and this is not something that should be disregarded.
The new changes to the user profile design succeed in their most important mission, to increase visual interest on profile pages (while also managing to be nearly indistinguishable from the Facebook Timeline). Beyond this, other changes come in the form of larger font for popular tweets, the ability to pin a post to the top of your profile and other minor tweaks.
Most conclude that these changes along with the recently added photo tagging functionality are a reach out to Facebook users to give the little blue bird a chance. Because as well all know, Twitter is incredibly complicated to use…(oh wait, it isn’t). Does Twitter have a learning curve to becoming a confident user, yes. However its clean and simple interface and simplistic features also lend themselves to a quick mastery of the network’s functionality once its quirks are understood. Twitter doesn’t have a design problem so much as a perception problem. People are intimidated by the networks' idiosyncrasies, the 140 character limits, hashtags etc. and this keeps them away, with most tech challenged users choosing Facebook as their primary social network.
It's funny to think back now as Facebook is over-run with “ads and grandparents” (shout out to Brian Blau on that one) that there was a time Facebook was exclusively the domain of University students and in the words of Mark Zuckerberg “cool”. It might sound ridiculous but when was the last time you heard anyone refer to Facebook as being “cool”? Thats because it isn’t. Important, yes. Un-ignorable, yes. Cool, absolutely not.
Will Twitter ever become the world's largest social network without significant changes? Probably not, but while Twitter may be a niche, it is a valuable one.These design changes coupled with the aformentioned added photo tagging functionality seem to represent an ideological shift of sorts for Twitter. Facebook has always been about friends and pictures while Twitter has instead focused on delivering RSS feed style content integrated with conversation, and this important distinction has had a huge impact on how people use the network. Twitter's value is derived from its ability to facilitate topical conversation between parties who may or may not have a relationship outside the network, this type of interaction on Facebook is much less common.
Constantly tweaking user experience and adding new functionality is certainly pertinent for survival in the fast changing world of social media and remaining stagnant in this regard is not an option. This being said, I only hope that in chasing new users Twitter does not lose sight of what its current 250 million active users love so much about the network: timely, efficient and relevant conversation delivered with a simple, clean user experience.