Category Archives: Annoyances

Dear Twitter: Please Ditch the Clutter

Have you ever been to a Las Vegas casino? The main floors tend toward sprawling layouts, with lots of shiny distractions to entice you to stay and spend more time and money on the slots instead of helping you get where you’re going. That’s what Twitter’s new layout feels like.

When Twitter started out, the home timeline would just show me posts from people I followed. Now it also shows me

  • Posts they liked, but didn’t like enough to retweet.
  • Posts from people they follow.
  • A “Who to follow” box that I can’t seem to get rid of, which is also on the sidebar.
  • Advertisements – I mean “Promoted” tweets.

I get that ads are the business model they’ve chosen, but what’s with the rest of it? It’s not like I’m going to get bored if I don’t have more suggestions shoveled in front of me.

And I am going to get frustrated if I can’t find the stuff I’m actually looking for. Let’s think back for a moment to the early 2000s, back when there were a lot of different competing search engines. Google won not just because it was fast and accurate, but because it had a simple, fast-loading, no-nonsense home page while everyone else was trying to cram everything imaginable onto a “web portal.”

With that in mind, let’s look at what happens when we look at a specific post. The logical thing to do would be to show you tweet itself and the context around it: If it’s part of a thread, show the rest of the thread. If it’s part of a discussion, show the discussion. And that’s how Twitter used to work. But now you have to click through another link to see that context, and instead it wants to show you “Tweets from people like so-and-so.” How is that a useful default?

It’s like going to a page in a book and finding not the previous and next pages, but ads for other books.

I actually do like the two-click retweet button functionality, where you click and get a menu asking if you want to retweet by itself or quote-tweet it. Normally a two-item pop-up menu is a terrible idea for usability, but this is a case where introducing some friction in the process might give people a chance to consider what they’re doing.

But the rest of it feels like they’re desperately throwing everything they can think of at me in hopes of broadening my engagement with the site. And that reaches a point of diminishing returns. When you can’t use the site for what you’re trying to do, it ends up making you much less interested in coming back.

I wish I could use TweetDeck on my phone.

It would be simpler.

An imagined conversation with an email petition

“Please sign this petition about X!”

“OK, I care about X, what’s the petition actually say?”

“It’s about X!”

“Right, but what’s the actual wording? Am I putting my name on supporting a specific action? ‘Cause I’d support some actions but not others.”

“It’s telling them to do something about X!”

“Yeah, I got that. What is it telling them to do?”

“Solve X!”

“Just look for solutions?”

“No, it’s telling them what we want them to do about X.”

“Which is…?”

“Fix it!”

“Sorry, but I’m not signing my name to a blank letter.”

“Why don’t you care about X?”

*sigh* *delete*

I’m totally willing to sign petitions when I can see the actual wording and it’s something I agree with.

But if the petition website doesn’t say what they’re actually delivering? I don’t want to put my name on something that might be advocating what that I consider to be a bad solution, even if I agree on the problem.

Facebook-Forced “Business Pages”

Anyone familiar with what Facebook Pages considers to be a “business?”

Facebook decided to group my “business pages” (two blogs, neither of which is a business, one of which I had already marked for deletion a few days ago) into a “business account.” I thought maybe they’d flattened their definitions, but another page (for a long-defunct user group that I also marked for deletion this week) didn’t get lumped into it.

“Help” hasn’t been terribly helpful.

Knowing Facebook, I half-suspect it’s some weird “Oh noes, he’s deleting pages because he thinks he doesn’t have the tools he needs! Let’s change his settings so he’ll see that we do offer the tools!” I deleted the pages because they’ve been inactive for years, not because I don’t have advertising tools for them.

I don’t need a “Facebook business account,” but I’m reluctant to delete it unless I can be sure I won’t lose access to the active blog’s page. And again, “Help” has been spectacularly unhelpful.

Who are phone notifications for?

Phone notifications aren’t just reminders. They’re interruptions, especially if you have sound or vibration turned on. That gives them a lot of power, and means they should be used responsibly.

In short, phone notifications should serve your interests as the person using the phone. Not the app’s. Not the service’s. Yours.

If someone you know sends you a message, you probably want to know that. If you put an appointment on your calendar, that reminder is going to help you. A shipping update, or delivery notice? Probably helpful as well. Completion of some long-running process that you requested or are waiting for? OK. App and system updates? You do want the phone to keep working properly, so there’s a case there.

If your friend tags you on a photo, or replies to your comment, or sends you a message, then yeah, Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Mastodon can justifiably notify you. It’s the start or continuation of a conversation between you and that other person. (Though you should still be able to mute it if you don’t want to talk to that person.)

But when Facebook starts pushing friend suggestions, or “did you see so-and-so’s comment on this conversation that you’re not part of,” or choosing to promote some subset of people’s broadcasts? That’s not in my interests, and that’s not in the other person’s interests. That’s Facebook advertising itself, because they’re desperately afraid they’ve lost my eyeballs.

It’s no different than the Black Friday through Cyber Monday ads that Amazon pushed into my notifications over Thanksgiving weekend.

We can pare down notifications, but it takes time, and not every app offers fine enough controls over which notifications it sends. And of course you have to re-do it every time you get a new phone, and every time you add a new app.

Advertising in an alert is, IMO, an abuse of the feature. We’re bombarded by so many demands for our attention as it is. Phone notifications should stick to those that help us do what we want, not those that distract us from it.

Trying to get at the features left out of the mobile app

I use extensive filters on Gmail to categorize mail the way I want. I pre-filter some things to look at later, prioritize some lists (like allergy or uptime alerts), and pre-categorize things that I may want to file away after looking at them.

The problem is, I can only change filters on the desktop site. When I’m reading on my phone, I need to remind myself not to archive or delete messages that I want to start filtering.

It occurred to me: I can label those messages “Change Filter.” I could even do it right away – there’s a “Manage labels” option on the Android app!

Nope!

I can’t add labels in the app, just change the download and notification settings for each.

So, website then…

Except I can’t get at the full Gmail website on my phone. Or my tablet. Google insists on showing a stripped-down mobile site, which has even fewer capabilities than the app.

I can’t fault them for starting with the mobile site. It is helpful to focus on the features that work best on small touchscreens, under-powered processors, and high-latency, low-bandwidth networks, and can be done by someone on the go, rather than someone sitting at a keyboard with a big screen and a mouse.

But if someone wants to use the functionality you’ve left out, and is willing to slog through the desktop site on their phone or tablet, you should at least let them get at it!

In this case I waited until I could log in on a desktop, then added the label. But not everyone with a phone has a desktop or a laptop. And as the balance keeps shifting towards phones as people’s primary internet access device, that’s going to be more and more common.