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About the New New Twitter

John Gruber is trashing the new Twitter: http://daringfireball.net/2011/12/new_twitter

Here is what I think: I used it for a day now and I see some clear of improvements in the information design (on the Web, for instance: no more multiple scrollable regions inside the page, a clearer left to right orientation, less navigational blocks), and a couple of dubious moves, too (an uneconomic amount of lines, boxes and boxes in boxes, f.ex.). But these are details, compared to a more serious issue that Gruber points out when comparing the new mobile app to Tweetie:


"Tweetie presented three main things:

1. The main timeline, showing the tweets of those people you follow.
2. Replies/mentions, showing tweets where you are mentioned or addressed.
3. Direct messages, showing private messages in a IM-style threaded views.

That’s what Tweetie presented you with, and that, to me, is what Twitter is all about. The app fit my mental model of the service."

I don't consider Gruber infallible when it comes to IA or UID—I think you need practical experience to be able to tell people what they should do or leave, but maybe that's just me—, but he nailed it there. Twitter looks like a 1:1 image of the content model (how Twitter is seen from within Twitter), almost completely ignoring the mental model (how Twitter is seen from the user side).

IA, what is it good for?
There are a couple of tech hipsters who poke fun at whoever still uses the obsolete term "Information Architect." They take the super sexy anti-IA stand. Fair enough. But no matter whether you think that "IA is so 2000" or whether you called yourself IA when no one knew what it meant (including yourself), information architecture is where most apps and websites still fail at their core.

The basic goal of an information architect is making sure that the idea of a digital product works. An idea works if what it wants to convey is understood. It's usually not that complicated, really, but in practice there are only very few companies that allow their IAs to work for real. There are many methods and ways to do and to describe what IAs do, I usually take this very simple basic model to explain it to customers:

1. You have the content model on one side: The content model is what you have.
2. And you have the mental model on the other side: That's what the user thinks you offer or should offer.

In the process of defining the information architecture you usually need to make cuts on both sides. You need to cut the irrelevant parts of your offer and you need to cut away superfluous elements on the side of user expectations. Both things are hard. Telling users: "No bread for you" is as hard as telling the marketing department that they cannot rape the interface to force their needs in every pixel of screen property. Dealing with nerds that don't see their special needs mirrored and let them go somewhere else is as tough as telling the CEO that he won't win if he does "everything his competitors does plus more."

The ultimate sophistication is Information Architecture is when you can exceed user expectations not by adding more content, functions and features, but by giving everybody more response for less input. And that's why in interface design less is (even) more (than usual).

What do I suggest?
While I applaud Twitter for having the balls to continue to try new things, they need to simplify the IA. Like I said, it's not that hard. After all, they have some of the most talented designers working for them. My suggestion is: Don't schedule a million workshops. Take Gruber's advice.


"1. The main timeline, showing the tweets of those people you follow.
2. Replies/mentions, showing tweets where you are mentioned or addressed.
3. Direct messages, showing private messages in a IM-style threaded views."

The problem I believe to see from outside is that the management set requirements that were impossible to solve. But, again, maybe that's just me projecting.

Disclaimer: I know some of the designers personally, but rest assured that what I am about to say is solely my speculation. They have been ultimately professional in not sharing the slightest bit of insider information.

One last thing for you,@jack and @ev, if you read this: Please be reassured that I wrote this with the best intentions. Even though I happen to puff a couple of ugly cigars here on G+, I still hate and love Twitter as much as I still love and hate those damned cigarettes. :)
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12 comments
 
+Oliver Reichenstein I see IA as vital part of any mobile product, but I find it very hard to actually get my hands on literature that have to do with IA. sure there are many books about UI, UX etc, but IA?

As I'm very interested in learning more about IA, do you have any ressources you can share regarding this topic?
 
Why does John Gruber mix Gill Sans with Verdana, make the text so small - body { font-size: 11px; } - and put white on gray? I think IA and common sense would question those choices.
 
I agree about Twitter. But didn't you suggest earlier that people who use fonts that small on the web should be put in jail? A little more than suboptimal.
 
Would you consider it a feature of good IA to support different mental models seamlessly, without adding perceptible complexity to the user interface?

My personal (possibly marginal) usage of Twitter is: Scroll down my timeline. Whenever I see something interesting, I add it to my favourites. When done, or when I have more idle time (on mobile or desktop), read tweets I have in my favourites.

It used to be very efficient using the Android swipe gesture to add to favourites, but now it's gone: afaics, you must open a tweet, add it to favourites and go back to the timeline, quite a heavy cognitive switch. And my Favourites are hidden away on my personal page, 2 or 3 taps away plus a scroll down (it was originally 1 tap away, then more recently 2).

My mental model of Twitter (a pool of noise from which I extract the signal for later consumption) is no longer as practical after the redesign. Is that a sign of bad IA? Or how do you re-conciliate a variety of mental models within one interface? Should you?
 
Nuff said, i dig the choice of putting the Compose field in the upper left corner, it's less "searchy" now. More interactive.
 
More than anything, I think this redesign is trying to teach people what a hash tag is and getting them to use them more. There are two foreign characters in common use on Twitter, @ and #. If you see the redesign as an attempt to organize the service around those (which it already has been but it hasn't been reflected in the design) then a lot of the changes make sense. They just don't care about DMs anymore (I find people using them less and less, especially after iMessage came along).
 
It's now like a car that looks like all the other cars -- seems flattened out, like some original soul got sucked out of it . . . investors moving the company to profit.
 
I imagine that some of the changes were made in light of research into what are the most common uses of Twitter are, hence the move of DMs to submenu of fourth tab for example. In any case, I find the new layout to be more straightforward and clear to me - the new design corresponds to my model of Twitter pretty much perfectly. The only part of what gruber said I agree with is that in the connect tab the show/hide "other stuff" should be done as a checkbox/switch type element, not extra tabs.
 
There are just too many interactions to accomplish anything in the #newtwitter. The obsession with how touch mobile interfaces have been solved is infecting solutions on the desktop. They are not the same.

BTW. I like daringfireball.com just fine.
 
Great write-up. I appreciate it as I rework the information architecture of another site. The idea of holding back a wealth of information to make it easier for the user...never thought of that. Thank you.
 
Great article! It's sad that information architecture is not respected on the same level as UI or Ix design. To me, you can't do proper design without proper IA.
 
Your text made me rethink my first impressions on the new Twitter a little bit. Nice :)
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