All content on this blog from Tim McGhee has moved to the Tim McGhee Substack, and soon, Lord willing, will be found only on that Substack.

Friday, September 25, 2020

I don't know if Twitter is worth the effort anymore

Product leadership is about understanding a product's potential, discovering it if necessary, and then pursuing that direction to the fullest extent possible.

Twitter leadership doesn't understand the “use case” for Twitter's most valuable feature.

As an avid Twitter user since 2007, I find this utterly incomprehensible.

List search is one of the most powerful features Twitter has, at least in combination with a few other features. For me it's the most valuable way to use Twitter.

Here's how it works:

Step 1: Make a list of related useful accounts on a particular topic you want to follow.

Step 2: Set up a search of that list in TweetDeck or IFTTT.

Step 3: Add a Retweet requirement threshold with the min_retweets: operator.

Optional Step 4: use the filter:news search operator. That one also helps dodge accusations of not using credible news sources since that will only show Tweets with links to sources Twitter deems credible.

Optional Step 5: Add some key words or names to really refine the search.

I've used this technique dozens and dozens of times.

Not only that, this is about the only way I have used Twitter outside of occasionally viewing live content intentionally or unintentionally.

I refuse to use the endless scroll. I've scrolled endlessly for more hours than I care to count, and I am very done with that time-use black hole for home feeds or list feeds. I am happy to let the Twitter user base filter the valuable content for me with its Retweeting.

Enter September 2020.

Twitter list search broke.

It didn't work anywhere with any Twitter user interface.

Someone reported this was intentional on Twitter's part due to people not liking being added to lists and somehow that being a harassment tool. I don't get that. I don't get using search of a list, specifically, for harassing people, and I don't get Twitter breaking its most valuable feature in response. There are other responses that would work better for that issue first.

I view Twitter as an information tool. Without Twitter search, I don't see value in it—at least not with an efficient way to access the value in Twitter—and especially not value that I can't get elsewhere.

Given that Twitter list search was broken for two weeks, after noting yet another loss of useful online tools this year, I cleared my Twitter list searches from TweetDecks, and moved on. My quick writing doesn't need to happen, and I went back to RSS for news via Feedly. I also pared down some of my more thorough Twitter lists to focus on core content sources.

A few more days later, after a prolonged period of broken functionality, Twitter list search has resumed working.

I'm not ready to go back.

I'm not ready to recreate all that lost work that Twitter made no effort to make worth saving. There was no announcement like, “We know this is broken; we're working on it.” Apparently they barely knew the feature existed and had no idea how people use it. Twitter may have a data-selling business, but it clearly doesn't have basic data on how Twitter users use Twitter.

I asked about the nature of why it stopped working in the first place, and the official answer was a less-than-definitive “to my understanding” response indicating the breakage was a mistake.

How did this heavily used feature breaking go unnoticed for so long?

Why should users have confidence in a product feature that Mr. “Product at @Twitter” has to ask about it's “use case”?

Why should I invest hours in fine-tuning lists and list searches if all that work could so easily come to nothing because Twitter Inc. isn't even aware it's there and being used that way?

I've known about this feature since 2015.

I have been asking for years for Twitter to make it easier to search lists.


Broken feature.

Two weeks of silence.

“to my understanding this was … unintended”

That reflects the problem.

Where is there anyone at Twitter Inc. that wants to intentionally make use of the value of the very powerful Twitter list search operator feature?

If no one at Twitter embraces the value of this feature and wants to make it more accessible to others, why should I invest the effort needed to work around their lack of effort, and run the risk that Twitter will inadvertently dismiss hours and hours of effort without a thought?

Does Twitter believe in user empowerment? That is, does it want its users to have the tools they want to use to find value from Twitter? Or does it want to just have its algorithms that sorts Tweets for me from people I'm neither following nor have listed, and assume it does the job better than I can do? A few times this works, but not nearly as often as when I filter my own lists by Retweets or news.

Does Twitter really just want to be about live content?

Does Twitter really think its verified users are the only ones worth following? I ask that because the filter:verified search operator is the only viable alternative to list-search for finding value on Twitter.

One of the ironies about a blog post on search is it may reflect my own lack of clarity on what I want.

I had many list-search columns set up, and they fell into two categories: a few I checked, and the rest I kept available to speed access to finding other specific information if something on a topic or person became newsworthy. It was more about being prepared than being informed.

In some ways I can understand why Twitter has been so hard to lead. It's an incredibly granular product, and the number of ways to use the product vary widely, and I mean that only in the most technical of senses. That doesn't say anything about the many psychological ways people have found for using Twitter and its Trending feature.

In some ways, Twitter is following Snapchat's lead. The supermarket tabloid checkout aisle magazines have moved to Snapchat's Discover tab. Twitter trends and Moments have basically become the same kind of magazine rack content.

What's telling about this is the high placement of low-value content.

I've long had plans for a different kind of platform that encourages high-value content, and I don't think it would take much more to do this than to simply reduce how frequently users can post in a category to no-more-often than daily. Notice the popularity of Tweet of the Day kind of features and you get the idea.

As much as I would like to have my Twitter list search setup from a month ago back, I plan to leave it where it is—in the past. I may set up a couple Twitter list search columns again for Members of Congress, but nothing beyond that like I had before.

Any further hours I would invest in making Twitter valuable to me, I instead want to invest in making a reliable platform that inherently, directly, and knowingly values high-value content.

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