Recipe for the next Twitter

As Twitter becomes less and less conversational and more and more "one-way broadcasting" we think the time is nigh for a next Twitter to barge into the scene.

If you don't agree with me that Twitter is becoming pretty one-way broadcasting in nature, rather than what it is at its best, a two-way conversational tool, consider the latest big Twitter stories that were covered in mainstream press:

-Iran conflict - citizen journalism to get the word out when 'real' journalism was stifled - one way broadcasting

-MJ death - yeah, sure, a lot of people Tweeted about it. A blog still broke the news, just like what would have happened with a big news event 8 years ago

-Habitat's horrendous attempt at a social media advertising campaign, highjacking stories of human suffering to push furniture - one way broadcasting on crack

-Ashton Kutcher's one million followers tirade - if he thinks it proves that he wants to converse with a million fans, rather than just broadcast to the world how 'special' he is, his ego has damaged his ability to reason

Finally, maybe it's just the people I follow, but I find that about half the Tweets coming up on my list are one-way thoughts rather than conversation starters or links to interesting stuff. And more importantly, when an interesting two-way conversation does come up between two of my followers, I have to click into one or both profiles to see what they said first, then click back for the next comment, then so on. I get lost and distracted while trying to trace a conversation.

A lot of early Twitterers were worried that as Twitter became more mainstream, it would somehow 'get worse.' I'm starting to believe it is getting worse. But I don't think the primary reason is that it's becoming mainstream.

The thing Twitter is doing wrong is not improving and evolving its UI to amplify the two-way conversational tools and steer it away from the one-way broadcasting direction. I still think Twitter is a breakthrough tool and I'm still a fan. And some of the one-way broadcasting, like the Iran conflict, is hugely important. But in some ways the UI is clunky and lacking basic functionality - especially for people who use it primarily as a two-way conversational tool. The stats are unclear about how many Twitterers use only the web UI and no other applications like Tweetdeck, but it seems to be at least half, if not the overwhelming majority. [Source for statistics: Hubspot, thanks to @handlewithcare, and Nick Burcher's blog, thanks to @crispyducks] Sorry to be harsh Twitter, but you are one of the most talked about technologies on the market today and your UI still needs a Tweetdeck for people who want more? Houston, we have a problem.

In my opinion, by not evolving the UI, Twitter has allowed a door to open for the next big thing to stir things up.

Here is our recipe for The Next Twitter - a groundbreaking conversation tool. If we had time to develop this ourselves, we would, but given how many proverbial pies we have our fingers in at the moment I'll give it to you as a freebie so someone brilliant can get it done:

1. Take the easiest web interface you can find, and make it interoperable with mobile (similar to what Twitter has done - we applaud them for their mastery of simplicity)

2. Shamelessly copy the follow / unfollow brilliance of Twitter. It's subtle and it works

3. Make search absolutely central to the tool. Don't confuse 'simple UI' with 'featureless' and don't kid yourself that any feature is more important than search. Twitter got this wrong in the beginning, and it still hasn't righted itself completely

4. Combine microblogging with elements of old-fashioned message boards, being the best of both, minus the annoying elements. Give people the ability to see entire conversations in a single glance on one screen, using plus/minus buttons so you can dig further into the conversations you want to see, and minus out of the ones you don't care about - all without having to navigate to a new screen. This seems technically hard to do, but I saw some truly innovative declarative UI programming technologies recently at our client Nokia Qt Software, and I have faith that techie geeks know how to do it and fit it all tidily on one screen

5. Initially, focus on convincing people how they can use it for their jobs and hobbies - Facebook's already got the masses' personal lives in the can

6. Excite and engage the media and PR scenes (much like what Twitter has done) to get the word out most quickly

7. Shamelessly market yourself as the thing that will unseat Twitter. The technology business world needs to take more lessons from athletes when it comes to bold, brash, super competitive statements

8. Be really strict with bots and spammers to keep them firmly out

9. Shake up the above ingredients, don't stir. Stick it in the oven and watch the world take notice

Do you agree with our recipe? Have other points to add? Let us know. We are dying to see this mystery tool be developed as we want to start using it now.


  1. According to Twitter's API team at the 140 conference in Mountain View back in May, less than a third of users use the web UI to work with the service. The majority use AIR tools or alternative web UIs. They cite the API as a key feature of the service, and one that's contributed to its success.

    As I remarked to you in a tweet, I recently interviewed Mozilla CEO John Lilly, who refrred to it as "Twitter outsourcing their UI". That's why you'll find new features in the API well before they reach the web.

  2. Great insights, thanks Simon.

    I think less than a third sounds optimistic. But I get their point about the UI strategy. It's a risky strategy, but then we always like to see companies take risk! When I poll people at dinner parties, the majority still say they think Twitter is pointless and can't see why it's worth their time. The number one reason? "Why would I want to bore people with constant updates about what I'm doing? That would make me an egomaniac." My point in bringing this up is that the majority of people still only see the one-way broadcasting side of Twitter. If Twitter's UI strategy is to focus on the API, perhaps they need to be more vocal about how they are pushing the API to amp the two-way conversational credentials. I think by lying low, they are keeping this door open for competition.

  3. Well i think twitter is still a new concept to the people..and twitter is now working on its UI..you have made some really good point..specially about twitter being used more for one-way broadcasting..