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Bugs & Issues

Twitter Is…

Noisy. Boring. Pointless. Repetitive. Too Fast. Too Slow. Full Of Spammers. Stupid. Redundant. A distraction. Overhyped.

All of the above?

Take your pick. These are all relative terms – one man’s signal, and so on. But that doesn’t really matter, as you have the power. Truth? Twitter isn’t anything – except what you make it.

If you don’t like what you’re seeing in your Twitter stream, change it. Unfollow. Then unfollow again. Connect with people that fit your needs and wants. And if that doesn’t work out, move on.

Lather, rinse, repeat – until you’re satisfied. You, you, you. Forget what everybody else thinks Twitter should be – what do you think? What do you want?

Almost without fail, people who complain that Twitter is pointless, boring or noisy, are following too many pointless, boring or noisy users. It’s frustrating because it’s something that’s so easy to fix.

And if you don’t do anything about it then you can’t blame anybody but yourself, as it’s never Twitter’s fault or responsibility – it’s yours, and always will be.

Hey, @Twitter: The #Dickbar Isn't Fascinating, It Isn't Cool, And Everybody Hates It

The latest Twitter For iPhone is proving very unpopular with many users, notably because of the ill-advised ‘Quick Bar’, a new feature that displays trending topics – and, of course, promoted trends – at the top of the home screen.

(You’ll notice another annoying feature of this new build is that it is mis-dating tweets. On the upside, it pleases me immensely that this submission from the lovely Elizabeth has been immortalised forever.)

The add-on has already been re-coined as the Dick Bar by technology pundit John Gruber, in honour of Twitter COO Dick Costolo and, well, because it’s kind of a dickish move – especially in light of previous comments he made about how Twitter’s advertising masterplan was going to be innovative.

“It will be fascinating. Non-traditional. And people will love it… It’s going to be really cool.” ~ Dick Costolo

Sure.

Dave Winer elaborates at Dickbar.org.

Gruber is referring to the first rumblings of the promised business model from Chicagoan Dick Costolo, the (relatively) new CEO of Twitter. He, I conclude is 1/2 of the “dick” in dickbar.

The other half is how you feel for believing that Twitter would do something classy and interesting with advertising, as we were promised when, the newly minted COO of Twitter, the same Dick Costolo told us we would love their advertising. Yeah uhuh. Us East Coast guys have a bridge we’d like to sell you. It connects Manhattan with the great borough of Brooklyn. Real cheap.

This is not only a lousy idea from Twitter, but it’s also been implemented poorly. The people aren’t happy, and despite what Costolo has said I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this feature is removed or options are provided to tuck it away in the next update.

(PS. Want your own Dick Bar for your website? For reals? Get it here.)

Ashton Kutcher's Twitter Account Has Been Hacked. 8 Hours Later, Nobody Is Doing Anything About It

Remember the days when Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) ruled the Twitter roost as the most-followed (and by definition, most popular) user on the network? Kutcher will always hold a very important milestone as the first profile to reach one million followers.

Well, times change, and Kutcher is rapidly on his way out of Twitter’s top 10 most-followed accounts. Give it a few months, and he’ll be gone.

And if all that wasn’t bad enough for Ashton, now his Twitter profile has been hacked. And the exploiter’s messages have been retweeted by hundreds of people.

Kutcher, who is currently attending TED 2011, appears to have been hacked by somebody with a very firm agenda – namely, Twitter’s insistence on using non-secure encryption for user sessions. Which in plain English means that while they maintain this level of security, everybody is at risk of being hacked, certainly if you access Twitter whilst out and about.

As senior technology consultant (and online security maestro) Graham Cluley explains at Naked Security:

Tools such as Firesheep make it child’s play for anybody sitting close to you to jump onto your Facebook or Twitter session if you’re using unencrypted WiFi without an SSL connection, for example at a free WiFi hotspot.

Wouldn’t it be great if Twitter forced the use of HTTPS at all times? Clearly whoever hacked into Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter account feels the same.

The insecure Twitter and Facebook accounts of some celebrities offer a very tempting target for cybercriminals who may wish to spread their dangerous or spammy links to millions of followers. We should just be grateful that on this occasion the hack appears to have taken place to promote better awareness of the need for better security, rather than with more malicious intent.

8 hours later, Kutcher’s account still appears to be hacked, as the messages are intact and nobody is doing anything about it. How embarrassing, especially whilst at such a high-profile, super-intellectual think-tank as TED. And you have to wonder if this would have taken so long to repair if Ashton was still Twitter’s top dog.

(Hat tip: Graham Cluley.)

On Twitter, You Are Not In Traffic – You Are Traffic

Be one of many, not many of one.

That checkbox that says ‘send updates to Twitter’? I get it. It’s so tempting. So convenient.

And so unnecessary, and so noisy.

If you’re not part of the signal, you’re part of the noise. And the noise is a LOT bigger, and likely always will be. But it’s a bit like anything else that seems overwhelming and not really your problem – you can make a difference, however small. Because all those teeny, tiny differences add up to a much greater whole. All of a sudden, there’s much less of a problem.

Yes, the perception of noise is entirely relative, but taking that stance is a real easy way to shirk responsibility. Deep down, we each know our contributory value – our ‘internet worth’, if you will. And if you don’t, Twitter will tell you.

Bottom line? If this is your idea of an acceptable journey on Twitter, then you need to think about taking a different route.

Old News Just In – Twitter's Technical Support Stinks

Regular readers may recall an article I wrote earlier this month about the Twitter.co.uk domain, which after many years of belong to someone else appeared to have been acquired by Twitter.

Ahead of publishing this piece I reached out to Steve Crawford, the previous owner of Twitter.co.uk, and Twitter themselves for clarification. I emailed various contacts at Twitter, Twitter’s PR team, and Twitter support.

Crawford was courteous enough to come back almost straight away.
Twitter never responded at all. Until now.

(click to enlarge)

Three weeks. Three weeks to respond to a request for help – and then they send an automated response.

Okay, you could argue that the support team aren’t probably best placed to answer my query, but I was careful to pick the best subject for my enquiry and all somebody had to do was forward it on. Yes, I know they’re probably as far away from inbox zero as you could possibly be – so why not quit doing a lousy job, and just hire more people?

This isn’t an isolated incident – users complain about Twitter’s lousy support network pretty much constantly. Almost two years ago, a poll I conducted revealed that 81% of readers rated Twitter’s support as somewhere between below average and terrible. I’d be amazed if that number has come down at all.

And we wonder why the platform has such a high drop-out rate for newcomers?

Twitter: Because There's No Decent Alternative

Last week, in response to an article I wrote that highlighted how Twitter was closing in on 400 employees (they’re currently at 399), one of my followers (@amancalledprak) made this wry observation:

He’s right: Twitter is no longer a small company. It’s gone well behind being a simple ‘start-up’. This isn’t the 24/7 responsibility of four men, two servers and their dog. It’s a big frickin’ deal. And as such, we can’t keep making excuses for them when they’re slow to deal with major issues and bugs, or react to events in a manner that is both inconsistent and bewildering.

What works in Twitter’s favour is there is no alternative to Twitter. If you want to tweet, you need Twitter. There’s nowhere comparable that allows YOU to get your message out to the world. Facebook isn’t the same thing at all. But it won’t always be this way. Sure, others have tried and failed to take on Biz Stone et al, but you can guarantee that there are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of alternatives to the platform already warming nicely in an incubator somewhere.

99 per cent of these will fail miserably, but it all it takes is one. One legitimate alternative that starts out with a few cool features and then gets a whole lot better, and Twitter is suddenly in trouble. It can and does happen all the time on (and off) the internet. Nobody is immune, nothing is forever and few institutions are (realistically) too big to fail. You simply cannot afford to be complacent – no matter how important you are right now.

If You Want To Use Twitter, Then Use Twitter

Are you sending automated updates from Foursquare to your Twitter feed 20 times a day? Please stop. Believe me: nobody cares that you’re at Starbucks for the fourth time, or that you’ve just ousted somebody we don’t know as the mayor of Joe’s Pizza.

Nobody on Twitter, that is – your Foursquare network might be very interested. So why not leave it there?

The same goes for LinkedIn, Facebook and Quora, or anything else that lures you in with that convenient, but always undesirable, ‘send updates to Twitter’ checkbox.

Twitter works brilliantly as an aggregator for input – that is, being able to quickly and easily follow updates and content from newspapers, blogs, politicians, media moguls, celebrities, colleagues, friends and family – but if you’re aggregating your output, then it’s just a lot of unnecessary noise. And if you’re consciously adding to that, then yes, you are part of Twitter’s signal problem.

It’s also incredibly lazy. Repeat after me: automated bad, manual good.

I follow you on Twitter because I want to see what you have to say on Twitter. If I want to see what you’re saying on Facebook or Quora, then I’ll follow you there. As long as you’re saying different things. Seriously: if you’re mass-updating and churning out the same old stuff everywhere, or polluting the stream with a load of automated junk, then why would you expect anyone to follow you at all?

You Should Be Able To Untag Yourself From Mentions On Twitter

Last month I proposed a solution to the problem of ugly tweets (and individuals) appearing on your Twitter stream – a hide button.

However, there is another way Twitter could empower us to control what does and does not appear in our mentions folder – we should be able to untag ourselves when our username is included within undesirable content.

This would work very much like untagging yourself from a photo on Facebook, something which I used to have to do a lot until Facebook upgraded their privacy controls. Mentions are predominately a positive experience on Twitter and most of the time we welcome them into our lives, but as with everywhere else on the internet there are bad people out there, plus a decent pinch of good, old-fashioned weirdos, too.

I have seen my username included on Twitter for ‘retweets’ that are completely falsified – I never said or linked to what is being retweeted, but now all of a sudden I’m endorsing herbal Viagra and The Jonas Brothers (often in the same tweet). While I love the organic, manual retweet, this has always been a major flaw on Twitter. You can type in somebody’s username and have them say or do pretty much anything, and now that message is out there for potentially millions of people to see.

A one-click unmention button would enable us all to manage not only what we have to see in our inboxes, but Twitter could also configure this so that untagged tweets did not rank for that user in Twitter search, which would allow us all a greater level of security and protection from fraud. And who doesn’t want that?

Twitter Needs Best Of Day

Picture the scene – you’ve had a long, really hard day at work. You’ve been run off your feet and haven’t had time for anything except that client and that project, neither of which will quit.

You come home and want to spend a bit of quality catch-up time on Twitter. So you log on, sit back… and stare thousands of unread tweets in the face.

Where do you even begin?

Remember Friendfeed? Sure you do. Friendfeed was the social aggregator that was like a more complex version of Twitter, and it came with a ton of really cool features. However, that complexity meant it never really took off with those all-essential masses. The site was acquired by Facebook in late 2009, and (in what was essentially a talent purchase) the good bits were sucked out and the rest of it was basically ignored. It’s still out there, but nobody really knows why. It’s all but been abandoned, visitor and press-wise, apart from a hardcore few and whatever programming team they can spare away from Facebook.

I don’t mean to sound so negative – I liked Friendfeed a lot, and on those few occasions when I wander back I still like it. One of its best features was Best Of Day (you’ll need to be logged in for this to work), which gave you access to a one-stop page that let you see the most popular entries amongst your friends (i.e., your network) over a given period, which defaulted to the last day.

This was incredibly convenient when time was scarce. Which, let’s face it, is most of the time.

Twitter needs this feature.

I want to be able to log in to Twitter and click one button and see an immediate summary of the past 24 hours. I want two options – one that lets me see the best of all of Twitter for that day, and one that shows me the best of my network. And I want to be able to filter this for the past week and month, too.

What is ‘best’? Best is the most retweeted, read and replied to content.

If we all had access to something like this, catching up with Twitter after (or during) work would be a breeze. Sure, you’re not getting the same rich experience you get from working your way through each and every tweet, or being on Twitter all day, but that’s not always something you’re able (or willing) to do.

Without this feature, a 10-minute end-of-day check-in with Twitter isn’t really an option. Much like lots of unread email, you either put in the time or take the shortcut to check all and ‘mark as read’. It’s counter-productive. And because Twitter is real time, once you’ve let too many hours go by you’re always chasing it.

Twitter needs this. I want it. What say you?

(PS. And before you ask – no.)

Freedom Of Tweets: Does Twitter Need Policy To Protect YOU From Defamation?

Interesting piece over at the official Twitter blog about how they manage freedom of expression on the network (i.e., they don’t):

The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. This is both a practical and ethical belief. On a practical level, we simply cannot review all one hundred million-plus Tweets created and subsequently delivered every day. From an ethical perspective, almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits.

Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed. While we may need to release information as required by law, we try to notify Twitter users before handing over their information whenever we can so they have a fair chance to fight the request if they so choose.

Twitter has policy for what you’re allowed to do with your profile (see here for details), but as I’ve written before (over 18 months ago) they don’t seem to have published (or act upon) anything that deals with defamation. The upcoming lawsuit involving Courtney Love will likely expose this as a gaping hole on the network.

Let’s not forget that the vast majority of tweets are indexed on the major search engines, too, and therefore cross well beyond Twitter’s 200 million (ish) users and are, potentially, out there forever.

My guess? It might take another couple of celebrity lawsuits, but pretty soon that official Twitter defamation policy will be in place.

All of which begs the question – should a Twitter abuse team be enabled with the authority to remove tweets that cross a predetermined line? Or maybe we need a system where the users police themselves, perhaps with a variation on the +/- scoring mechanism used by many social bookmarking sites. If a given tweet breaches a negative threshold (or somebody complains directly) then Twitter’s abuse team steps in to investigate.

This isn’t about celebrities – they’ll have lawyers in place to handle this stuff, and you have to take a lot of it with a pinch in this PR-crazy world. Lots of ‘normal’ people stand to get hurt by baseless allegation and libel. I’m a huge believer in freedom of speech, but only if somebody is looking out for the little guy. I’m not convinced Twitter is doing enough in this area, and saying that they don’t have time to go through all the tweets sounds like an excuse, and isn’t really the point. Set up that abuse team and install a system where users can police themselves and let that become your filter. It’s a fine line, of course, but any community by definition needs to have some limits in place.

What say you?

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