Archive for the ‘Twitter’ Category

Potluck: social networks as an endless game

Friday, June 28th, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of “endless games” and how they apply to content. From SCVNGR’s game dynamics playdeck:

Endless games: Games that do not have an explicit end. Most applicable to casual games that can refresh their content or games where a static (but positive) state is a reward of its own.

This same mechanic is at work within almost all social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even Quora. It’s a simple concept: every time you return to any of these social networks, there’s something new for you. Something to read, something to discuss, a funny animated GIF, a link to explore — and on and on. The fact you’re getting something new and unknown whenever you return to a social network is one reason they have become such a powerful part of digital life.

And that’s why I was quite excited about Potluck — a social network dedicated to sharing links. As a link junky this sounded like a wonderful proposition. From their homepage:

Discover new things your friends think are cool (that you wouldn’t find otherwise!).

Sounded pretty good. I signed up and even sent it to work colleagues and tweeted it out. I connected to around a dozen people on the first day. Found some nice new links. A good start. But since yesterday afternoon?

Zip. Nothing is happening. Just tumbleweeds rolling by.

What motivation do I have to return to Potluck?

Zero. There’s nothing new there.

Critically, because it’s only very new and I only have a few connections, of course there’s likely to be little there. Where are the link suggestions? Trending links? Popular links? There is literlaly no reason for me to bother ever signing in again. Am I missing some part of the site? Or is it really just meant to be like this?

Potluck has failed at creating a sense of an endless game, and for me that means it’s failed entirely as a social network concept.

It’s incredible that a product with such an impressive team behind it (Evan Williams and Biz Stone to name just two) could be launched like this. This isn’t even beta.

Potluck describes itself as The best house party you’ve ever been to. On the internet.

Alas, this seems more accurate…

Forever alone

A little problem with following on Twitter

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

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.”


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.


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.

Your year in review on social networks: Twitter vs Facebook

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

On December 12th I noticed a link on Facebook: “2012: Your year in review”. Boldy it proclaimed:

“A look at your 20 biggest moments from the year including life events, highlighted posts and your popular stories.”

2012 in review

I love these ‘end of year reviews’. They’re one of the best things about the close of the year — looking back over the year that was and reliving highlights (and often lowlights). Some of the more interesting ones from 2012 were Google’s Zeitgeist 2012, 2012 Year on Twitter and The Atlantic’s 2012: The Year in Photos.

Naturally I was really interested to see a personalised year in review from Facebook. Given that I use Facebook a lot — and therefore Facebook knows a lot about me, and has a lot of my data — my expectations were quite high.

Unfortunately, my Facebook year in review was woefully underwhelming. (If you’re friends me on Facebook, you can see my Year in review — or see your own — which is hopefully more interesting than mine).

So why was mine so underwhelming?


A single serving site story: Epilogue

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

In July 2011 I wrote about the story (so far) of — a ‘single serving site’ I created spoofing Chelsea FC’s ‘revolving door’ history of managerial changes — and whether new coach André Villas-Boas had indeed been sacked yet.


Eurostar: a bit of irony and some great customer service

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Looking into booking Eurostar tickets for next year and I encountered this:

The old chestnut of Flash banners overlaying any object on the page. But the irony here is that the Flash banner is advertising Eurostar’s flash sale. Oops.

Actually, I choose to blame UKBA — if it wasn’t for the strike next week, the info box here wouldn’t be pushing the banner down.

But kudos to Eurostar…

Stellar social media service!

Spotify and Facebook: No more guilty pleasures

Monday, September 26th, 2011

The full implications of Spotify and Facebook’s love-in became quite apparent today. The first point of controversy: you now need a Facebook account to create a new Spotify account. I’ve already got a Spotify account and a Facebook account so this didn’t really bother me, even though I think it’s a strange and exclusive move (as in, excluding non-Facebook users).

But when I got home this evening and logged into Spotify, it dawned on me that Spotify and Facebook really, really want me to combine my accounts:

Spotify Loves Social


Facebook design changes: user experience and the user environment

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

So, Facebook rolled out some new design changes today. From the moment I heard about it, I think everyone knew that it’d be big yet ultimately dull news.

As one friend put in a succinct Facebook update:

That time of the year has come again – Facebook layout changes

Side effects will include a barrage of posts from people who claim it has caused them distress, anxiety, agitation, blurred vision, hair loss, insomnia, diarrhoea and erectile dysfunction.

Users hate change. Redesigns at best are met with softly spoken praise; at worst with fury and backlash.

As a designer I always try to stifle my inner-user when dealing with a new design. I try to understand and appreciate the thought behind it, knowing only too well how much time, thought and discussion has been put into every minute detail.

But what also really fascinates me is after using a new design of a site, seeing what others think of it, and trying to reconcile their thoughts with not only my own opinion of the design, but what I think was the strategy behind the design itself.

Puns and The Art of (Dis)Enchantment

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Last weekend I started reading The Art of Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki. I’d heard a lot about this book (and Guy) in general, so had fairly high expectations for it. The book is just as the title suggests: how to enchant people, either personally or with a product and so on.

From the outset, to be honest, I found it hard to really understand the hype. It’s by no means a bad book, but just not as — well, “enchanting” as one would expect. But I kept going, until I hit this point: speaking about the concept of being a “mensch” (based on the Yiddish expression for being beyond just a human), Kawasaki ends an anecdote about actor James Garner with these words:

…in other words, Garner was saying, “Don’t menschion it”.

Ugh. Really Guy? I instinctively slammed the book shut at that point. A book on enchantment had actually made me feel so disenchanted I slammed it shut because of an appallingly cheesy pun. For me, the book’s credibility had just vanished.

But aren’t all puns appalling and cheesy?

By coincidence, shortly after reading that pun, I saw this wonderful video from comedian Rich Hall:

I’m not cuing the video to the pun: watch the whole thing, you won’t regret it — it’s genius (but the pun is at 2:19 if you can’t wait or missed it).

Rich Hall’s pun? Now that’s enchanting and funny.

Humour is a powerful thing. Even with design. Google is a great example: the “I’m feeling lucky” button through to many Google Doodles. Twitter’s Fail Whale is another great example. It can lower the tone, relax and even amuse people in otherwise frustrating situations.

But it’s a dangerous approach: if the fail whale wasn’t so cute, it might not work. And this is the problem with puns: they are the riskiest form of humour. I disagree that they’re the lowest form of wit: instead I think they’re hardest form of wit to execute. For every Rich Hall that makes a genuinely funny one, there’s a thousand terrible ones being made by your uncle and member of senior management no one likes.

So sorry Guy, but for me you’re now in the same category of wit as the latter two examples.

I think I’ll move on to my next book.

How (not) to use Twitter

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

From my Twitter timeline this morning:

FFA Tweet

I think the FFA are missing the point of microblogging. For starters, I can’t read backwards. But wait, which order should I read it in? It’s like some sort of bizarre-o palindromic press release.

Wouldn’t this be more succinct?

FFA Tweet

The slow decline of Flickr

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

I used to be a Flickr addict. I would shoot as much as I could and upload at least a few days a week. But the past few months, I’ve found myself spending less and less time on the site. Why?

Flickr Stats
Part of it is definitely the improvement in Facebook’s handling of photos. Facebook now provides higher quality images and the ability to share my photos with a much larger selection of friends.

And that’s where I think Flickr is starting to fall behind: there is a distinct lack of updates and new ‘features’ on the site. Twitter and Facebook are always tweaking their interface (with varying degrees of success and often with a fair bit of controversy). But the last major interface update I can remember was to sharing photos in March 2011. And that was hardly a massive new feature.