Twitter’s Design Changes Aren’t All Terrible

Inline images are a useful improvement, but the new sharing buttons aren't.

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When I read the news that Twitter was adding photos, Vine videos, retweets and favorites directly to users’ feeds, I had the usual gut reaction that comes with any big design change: Ugh.

At least aesthetically, this is Twitter transforming itself into Facebook. Instead of having to tap or click on a tweet to see the attached visuals, or to interact with it, all the necessary imagery and buttons now show up right on the main screen. If you’re a Twitter veteran who was initially drawn to the service’s clean 140-character text blurbs, what’s not to hate?

But as I perused the Twitter app on my iPhone this morning, I found myself warming to the new Twitter. Some of the changes are a step backwards, as I’ll explain shortly, but I’m happy to sacrifice the maximum number of tweets on screen at once in exchange for inline images. The result is fewer holdups as I’m trying to catch up on missed tweets.

Here’s a basic example of how it worked before:

  1. Someone I know tweets something ambiguous, like “So glad I finally got this,” along with an image link.
  2. Curiosity gets the best of me, so I stop scrolling through and press the link.
  3. Whatever “this” is turns out to be of no importance to anyone. Time wasted.

Yes, with inline images there is now a risk of having more irrelevant data in the feed. But at least now I don’t get stuck on it. Scrolling through images is much the same as scrolling through text, in that I can just scan and move on. (The byproduct, or maybe the intent if you’re that cynical, is that Twitter has already expanded these image privileges to advertisements.)

I don’t feel as warm about the new reply, retweet, favorite and follow buttons that now appear directly underneath every tweet. This seems like a design decision handed down from a board room–we must reduce friction for more sharing!–and maybe that’s a worthy goal, but the implementation is clumsy.

On an iPhone, the buttons are tiny, which is just a general no-no for touch screen apps, but you wouldn’t want bigger buttons because they’d hog way too much of the screen. Twitter’s old way of letting you swipe to see possible actions, or tap on the tweet in question, made more sense, and still does.

Even worse, those new buttons are too frictionless. It’s too easy to accidentally favorite a tweet (which notifies the other person and could be awkward depending on the tweet in question), and to follow users who’ve shown up in your feed as retweets. This could be easily fixed with an additional prompt for those actions.

Overall I am not opposed to Twitter putting more content in the feed. But then again I also don’t mind the recently-added conversation view, a divisive change that shows tweets and replies in a unified thread. As the number of people I follow grows, cutting down the time spent digging into individual tweets is a change I can live with.

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