My top 5 ways to make Twitter better

I'm finding myself using Twitter more and more these days and not for putting out tweets about what I'm doing at the moment. Twitter is slowly replacing my RSS reader as my vehicle of choice for news I care about, whether it's general, technical, Mac specific or sports related. I've used it to promote my new company (SharedStatus), chat with friends about topics I care about, help people with Mac and Ruby on Rails specific questions and generally build up a network of people I like to chat and network with. I can ask a question on Twitter and usually get an answer almost immediately.

For these and lots of other reasons I've found Twitter to be a great addition to my online experience. While I really like Twitter I know it can be improved so here are my top 5 features/changes for making Twitter better:

1) Make ReTweets fundamental
ReTweets (usually abbreviated RT in tweets) are likely the most powerful networking component of Twitter. When you find something of value you RT it; if you want people to know about something important to you then you want people to RT it to their followers. Entire sites have been made to talk about the value of ReTweets. So why doesn't Twitter have a built in ReTweet mechanism? Something that allows me to ReTweet without having to chew up the actual content in order to do it?

Much like the old campfire story that changes as it goes around the fire ring, ReTweets tend to become more and more abbreviated as they progress because people like to keep the original authors and forwarders in the loop. Since many RTs tend to have links in them the content is already at a premium. I'd like to see the RT path broken out separately from the message body. It would keep the content intact and allow you to see where an RT has been.

2) Make links external to a tweet
Another thing I would like to see broken out of the text area of a tweet is the ability to have one or more links to web content on a tweet. Sure, services like, TinyURL, etc. can make some pretty small links but this is a very common "cargo" for a tweet. This need could also be addressed if Twitter supported hyperlinks in a Tweet.

I know, SMS gateways would have a difficult time dealing with this since text messaging is part of Twitter's foundation but few people get their tweets through SMS anyway; if you're doing it on a phone it's likely a smart phone with a Twitter client anyway. You know, one with a web browser so you can actually see what the link points to. Making SMS the high water mark for tweet capabilities will severely limit any new features in the future.

3) Build in support for hashtags
Hashtags are one of the cooler things the Twitter community created. By prefacing a word with the hash symbol (#) people create virtual conversations around a topic. Combine it with the Search capability in Twitter and it's a great way to stay on top of topics you care about. I use it all the time while watching sporting events at home. It's a great way to get general commentary on something that is happening live and to find others to follow that share your passion on a topic.

The downside of hashtags is that they once again tend to chew up that precious 140 characters with something that really should just be a tagged attribute that can be used for searches and views. People need the ability to organize the tweets they see and hashtags can serve as the vehicle for that.

4) Allow me to create views on the Twitter web site
The main reason I like TweetDeck is it's ability to create views of the people or topics I want to follow on Twitter. When you combine those views with hashtags you get a great way of staying on top of the topics you want to track when you want to track them. This functionality is something I would really like to see Twitter add to their main web site interface. Sure, it can be left to the custom client applications to service that need but more and more I find myself accessing Twitter from multiple locations; I would like my views to follow me where I go.

Let me set them up, name them and then access them from any client as well.

5) Give me the option of receiving DMs from followers
Direct Messages are very handy, though I don't like the fact that people cannot direct message me if I don't follow them too. I don't follow a lot of people because the noise factor gets too high, yet I want people to be able to reach me easily. Just give me the option of setting who can send me a direct message:
  • Anyone
  • People that follow me
  • People that I follow and follow me
  • Nobody
That should pretty well cover all the cases of direct messaging.

So there you have it, the five things that I think would make Twitter better. Yes, I know, many of these changes have sweeping architectural implications for Twitter but hey, if Twitter is going to be around for a long time it will need to support the ways people are actually using it.

What about you? Got a suggestion for something in Twitter that I didn't include? Drop a note in the comments. Or if you're feeling brief, shoot me a tweet on it.


Mark said...

Hi David,

I totally agree with your list. As popular as Twitter is, it sort of feels like it's a beta version, when you consider the fail whale appearances and lack of integrations for the features you've mentioned.

I just started using Twitter a little while ago, and although it's easy to use, they could really make it inherently more powerful, especially for bloggers.

Great work on the blog, btw :)

David Alison said...

@Mark: Thanks for the nice comment! I really want to see Twitter succeed and I just hope they do what they need to to improve the service. That Fail Whale has been coming up a lot more lately so I know exactly what you mean.