A little problem with following on Twitter

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Twitter has an excellent onboarding process that ensures you’ll be seeing tweets of interest within minutes of signing up. This is all part of Twitter’s consistently great user experience; however lately I’ve stumbled upon one exception to this:

Twitter: You are unable to follow more people at this time

You are unable to follow more people at this time.

Lately I hit the 2,000 mark of users followed on Twitter. This is indicative of what I was talking about above: Twitter is fantastic at encouraging you to follow more and more. The “Who to follow” pane is like an intellectual donut shop… juicy avatars of all sorts of users it believes you’ll be interested in.

Mmm, Twitter donuts

And you just want to keep on eating. It’s a classic feedback loop: you click follow and you’ll get a new avatar appearing to tempt you again into following. It’s like a social network slot machine.

But therein lies the issue: depending on your level of followers, sooner or later you run out of coins.

Now Twitter has an interesting support article on following limits that explains how it works. It’s a tricky balance for them: trying to maintain their service, avoiding spam and abuse… there’s a lot of issues at play here.

For me the issue isn’t that they stop you following more than x followers, it’s more the lack of response the interface has to this limit.

It’s a pretty standard and simple convention in UI design that if a user can’t perform an action, either don’t show it or show that it is unavailable. Even though my Twitter follower list is now capped, Twitter still urges me to follow more. Yet if I click “follow” I’m thrown up the same old message: “You are unable to follow more people at this time. Learn more here.” Not great.

But here’s where this issue takes a turn for the worse. There are two ways to follow new people if you’ve hit your limit:

Unfollow users

Unfollowing users on a social network is a slippery slope. It’s hard to maintain a thick skin with this sometimes; anyone who’s used a service like Qwitter knows that it’s hard not to take these things personally when someone unfollows you. Was it something I said? Am I tweeting too much? Am I not as funny as I think I am? Am I tweeting many amusing cat videos? Or has that person hit their limit and is just “pruning” users?

And it’s often tit for tat: if someone unfollows you, it’s only human to want to unfollow them. And ironically, that means both users are followers down now, which sadly affects the number of users you’re allowed to follow: Twitter mentions ratios between following and followers, but doesn’t publish them.

Gain more followers

Telling users to get more followers is potentially negative as well.

“You’re not popular enough.”

Heathers

Flash backs to highschool anyone?

A more elegent solution

This could work a whole lot better, with a few simple changes.

One option would be to remove the whole “who to follow” pane altogether. But surely there’s a better solution than that.

Messaging

Let’s say you’re ten users away from your Twitter limit. Why not communicate that to the user?

You're only ten users away...

Positive actions

And if you’ve hit your limit? Why not encourage the user to try and gain more followers?

Join the conversation?

This way the drive to continually interact and engage with Twitter remains while removing frustrating and potentially negative experience.

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