Thoughts on #newtwitter

After fixing last week’s XSS bug, Twitter rolled out its new interface, a.k.a. #newtwitter, to more accounts, including mine @jkuramot.

I’ve played around with it for a bit, using it as my client for several hours, and what follows are a few impressions, not necessarily a review. I don’t expect to switch from the many clients I use to #newtwitter, but when a major web app makes changes this big, I like to kick the tires.

Impression 1
The interface feels like it’s designed for a tablet (read: iPad), not for a traditional browser. The width is much larger, and the tweet details open in a right-hand column (vs. new page).

Web design has long been obsessed with squeezing just enough width out of a page, without losing the people who still run 800/600 or 1024/768. Vertical scrolling is assumed; horizontal scrolling is a no-fly.

#newtwitter doesn’t leave the 1024/768 crowd behind, but they get a lot more content per square pixel. It’s pretty crowded.

For everyone else, the tablet design feels modern, but you get a lot fewer tweets above the fold, so there’s a lot of vertical scrolling. They mitigate this with infinite scrolling, which is one of our favorite stream features, h/t Brizzly and Google Reader, and a fixed header for navigation and tweeting while scrolling below the fold.

Scrolling on a touch device is easier than with a mouse, even with a scroll wheel or gestures. The barrier to entry is lower, and it’s intuitive, not learned. Try it sometime.

This shift to a tablet-friendly interface is gigantically important to web design because it signals brand-new paradigms and opens more screen real estate. Twitter is betting on the success of tablets and is the first major site I can recall to redesign their entire presence accordingly, not just for a specific user agent, but the whole site for everyone.

Impression 2
Autocomplete of handles is a great feature that clients have had for a while. #newtwitter adds this feature in an interesting manner.

They only pull handles from the most recent 500 account you’ve followed, so as in the example below, I can’t auto-complete @theappslab.

This initially struck me as half-baked. Sure, fetching the following list is resource-intensive, so why implement this at all in such an arbitrary way? I spouted off to John (@jpiwowar) about this extensively while we waited for our planes at SFO. He nodded politely.

Today, I have a fresh head.

I have to assume Twitter PM is smart. So, they probably chose 500 to balance heavy users (low percent of total) with performance and utility. The feature is awesome enough to include, but they didn’t want performance to suck for people like me, not coincidentally those most likely to complain about it online. I’ll bet 98% of users don’t follow 500 people anyway, so the limit is a concession more than anything.

Plus, you’re more likely to remember the handles of those you’ve followed for a long time, making the feature moot for handles you already know.

Impressions 2+n
I do find the new Twitter a bit busy. When you click a tweet, the right-hand panel includes new information like replies (not quite threading) and other tweets with the same hashtag. It also gives location a nice home and inlines images, both useful.

There is still a permalink and separate page for each tweet, but it’s tough to find. Hint, look for the “x minutes ago” link in the post’s metadata. Interestingly, the single page view doesn’t have as much new stuff, which may signal its demise.

One thing that hasn’t changed is a font discrepancy that has always bugged me. In the tweet stream, the font is sans serif. In the detail view (and on the single tweet page), the font is serif. I don’t really get why, and I always thought is was a gaffe. Maybe a font geek out there can advise.

Final Impression
Finally, one telling item in #newtwitter is the deemphasis of the tweet’s source. You no longer see the source of the tweet in the stream view, e.g. via web, via TweetDeck, etc.

Initially, I thought it had been removed to make room for other functions and metadata, but this is the only change to the stream view.

The tweet’s source does still show in the detail and single page view, but its absence in the stream view is odd.

Early Returns
Back in April at Chrip, Loic Le Meur (@loic) head of Seesmic (@seesmic) colorfully addressed all the panic about Twitter’s perceived abandonment of its development ecosystem. Many voices disagree with his rosy outlook, and #newtwitter does nothing to quell those fears.

Several features that were introduced by browser clients (mainly Brizzly) have been added, and the experience as a whole is much more powerful, albeit more busy. Twitter is obviously committed to having great clients on all platforms, web, desktop and mobile. So, building in those areas will definitely lead to competition.

Obviously, developers must find differentiating features, and there is certainly still room for clients. Seesmic may be the prime example of how to survive by adding other services and a plugin architecture to become a streaming dashboard. TweetDeck’s Android app, which Rich (@rmanalan) hooked me on this week, is another example of a powerful client that adds value beyond Twitter.

So, I’ll continue using the #newtwitter for a bit to see how I like it, and it may replace my current browser client of choice, Seesmic Web. But that doesn’t mean that all my tweeting will be exclusively with Twitter’s official clients.

I suspect most in the 2% I referenced above will follow that same policy. Twitter is simply cleaning itself up for the 98% who use Twitter without a client.

There’s a lot in there. Find the comments.

Update: Louis Gray (@louisgray) points out another change caused by the tablet-friendly design–the loss of custom backgrounds, or at least the borking of them. Interesting read.




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