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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