March 08, 2011

quickly on the quickbar

I've been loving the reaction to Twitter for iPhone's Quickbar, because it puts into sharp relief some of the challenges Twitter's facing in connecting "personal" use of the service to what's happening "globally."

The goal of the feature seems clear: expose users to more of what's happening on Twitter, in real time. This is a laudable goal! If you don't spend a lot of time surfing trending topics, or searching for new people to follow, your timeline quickly becomes a stale echo chamber -- the same voices prattling on about the same stuff, over and over and over. Twitter needs to keep the experience fresh for users, and make it easy to become more engaged with the service over time. And the Quickbar is a step in that direction: put information from outside my timeline in (or at least on top of) my timeline. And, at the same time, grow the available promoted inventory.

There are issues with its current implementation: it shouldn't lay on top of my timeline, and it feels like the app is requesting updates to its content first before pulling new tweets in my timeline. (Priorities, priorities.) That said, I have faith those will be addressed either in the update that's coming...or some future update. I've enjoyed using software developed by Loren Brichter for a long time now, and I trust that Loren and the rest of the Twitter team wants to do right by its users.

But, as pointed out by my colleague Jeff Reine this afternoon (in a non-HREF'able conversation), the problem with the Quickbar is that for a good number of users the trends surfaced there are too far away from their day to day experience of Twitter. There must be many, many people who tweet about Lord Voldemort, Severus Snape, or even Tigerblood...but none of them are my friends. The disconnect between what's happening in my timeline and what's happening in the trends is just too great. I tune out the Quickbar because it's consistently not of interest.

Now, I know that I'm not in the demo for the trends, and perhaps I'd be served better by that other app down the road. After all, Twitter's a big big place, and I while I may not want to discuss Harry Potter every day, I appreciate that there are (many, many) people that do. But I think there's a better way, a way to use timeline real estate to connect the personal use of Twitter (what I do with my friends) to the global community of Twitter users and trends. I'd love to see the Quickbar become something that's more surprising -- a mix that combines things that are "near" to me (popular items from my friends, recommended users to follow), "medium distance" to me (trends from my location) and "far away" (global trends). I should want to see what's in the Quickbar, just to see what it's offering now. And if some of those were ad supported, great. And if some of those were even curated by actual humans ("You should know about how this particular hashtag, even though it's not trending"), all the better.