“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

@twitter for Mac: Just a light widget. Where’s the desktop client I wanted?

I’ve read a few critiques of the @Twitter for Mac client. I think Dan Saffer’s is probably the best and most comprehensive. I will say that while I get the nits that Dan is making, I’m not sure I’m as critical of them. I think my problems are around my expectations when I think about a tool on my “desktop” as opposed to on 1 of my mobile devices.

I will note that I do not have all the information that the design team of @twitter has. These are designers whom I know personally and have great respect for. Twitter has an amazingly open response attitude which you can see with two of their designer’s streams, @stop and @k. This being said, I would love to see the research that pushed them to keep the desktop client “as light as possible”. This to me is where my own criticism might not carry weight with the design team there, so without understanding their reasoning this will only be an academic exercise.

So here is my assumption. There is a large eco-system for Twitter. There was “Tweetie” (Twitter for Mac’s predecessor), Twitter.com (web client), Twitter for iPhone and Twitter for iPad. I realize that most users will not experience ALL of these but I bet that many experience more than one. For me and many of my peers who are Apple MacOS and iOS folks this who I sense are a large group of core and viral users of twitter, ignoring overlap seems to be problematic strategically. This is compounded by the reality that the MacOS version cannot exist with its web client.

So what is this getting at. In iOS app design we have learned that forced transitions between app contexts/types has a negative reaction to end users. That is to say if I am in installed App A and pushed to a web browser there is a strong “WTF?” reaction. Where am I? How do I get back? Why did I have to leave? are all part of the end-user response. This is especially true when we aren’t told, or we feel the type of content is in the primary domain of the application we are using. In the case of Twitter they have “expanded” their domain to include the web itself. When I click on a link in an iOS platform I have gotten used to NOT leaving the purview of the main client until I say I want to do more. This has actually been a boon because both iOS apps have been able to add functionality that doesn’t exist in the browser that I would expect at this point would be there, like easy access to adding Read Later (instapaper) and mailing a link.

But this is an introduction to a larger issue. That is to say a desktop client should be “thicker” than a web client and I would add to any mobile client. There is key functionality missing from Twitter for Mac. So much so I find myself opening my iPhone to do things that I would expect available on the desktop client. The biggest one being URL shortening. But there are many others. And then there is just functionality that other clients (non-twitter created) that have functionality that I would have expected by the owner of the data stream at this point, especially in a thick (or thin client). So here are my minimal list of requirements for a future iteration that should help thicken up Twitter for Mac. These should be easily doable w/o cluttering the app:

  • Where is auto-complete of reply addresses and DMs?
  • Where is the amazing search feature of Content vs. People (vs. nearby) I get on iOS?
  • Side by side views of my different streams (@, DM, #, lists)?
  • URL shortening B4 I hit send

I do think that not having a direct actuator for “new tweet” is bizarre. I get that not everyone tweets, most lurk, but b/c I have to focus on the window first (w/ mouse) and then switch to keyboard and use keys that are for the vast majority of people on the same hand as the mouse hand, means that it is pretty annoying to constantly repeat. If I could even in an unfocused twitter window click on the “new tweet” button and it automatically focus to top on that single click that would be ideal.

I think the next big thing twitter needs to figure out is better conversation tracking. I know this is not a primary use case for people, but it is a key use case even if secondary to the critical mass that makes Twitter so amazing for us power users. So I hope we can get some thinking, design, and experimentation on this at the data level. The current data sets are just too limited and make it too difficult for 3rd parties even to do anything better than what is out there currently.

The good news is that the Mac AppStore makes updates easy so I hope to see them much more often than with Tweetie (post acquisition) .

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