TweetDeck critique

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I’ve been using TweetDeck for over a year now, both on my laptop and on my iPhone. It’s a great tool for managing a moderate stream of tweets. The columns offer a convenient way to segment and organize tweets, and its display of certain media in-line is convenient. In the spirit of constructive criticism, I would like to offer a set of suggestions (some obvious, some maybe not) on how its user experience might be improved.

Although the iPhone interface is quite similar, I find myself using it as a light-weight manner, and thus am generally satisfied with it. The desktop UI is more capable, and thus invites a broader range of uses.

Stacked columns

As of this writing, I have 16 columns in my tweet deck, most of which are various kinds of standing queries. These are mostly related to recent or upcoming conferences, with a few topics of persistent interest. These columns offer adequate segmentation, but only five of them fit on my screen with the window maximized. One way to increase the number of channels visible simultaneously is to stack columns so that more than one shares the same vertical slice. This is particularly useful for “channels” that are relatively low volume.

Dynamic grouping for spiking tweet volume

While most people tweet at a relatively constant rate, occasionally a person will tweet at an increased rate, such as when they are live-tweeting some event. Such tweeting can overwhelm a channel and make it difficult to attend to tweets by others. It would be great if TweetDeck offered ways to deal with this problem.

One strategy for dealing with such tweeting is to group tweets. For example, tweets by a person or people with a given hashtag that exceed the average tweeting frequency by an order of magnitude in some short time (e.g., 10 minutes) could be grouped into a single entry in a TweetDeck column, or hived off into a separate, transient column automatically. Once the tweet rate subsides, or if a tweet by a temporarily-prolific tweeter doesn’t contain a hashtag characteristic of the high-volume tweets, that person’s tweets should be displayed in their normal column.

This marking can be automatic, or can be specified manually. When I see a person whom I follow start to live-tweet, I should be able to mark that hashtag or that person-hashtag combination and cause all such tweets to be filtered into a separate column without affecting the tweeter’s permanent assignment to a column. If the system can make an educated guess for me, all the better, as long as it’s not wrong too often and I can correct its guess.

Lists vs. groups

Finally, I noticed that when TweetDeck introduced one of its recent versions, I lost the ability to create arbitrary groups of people whom I follow. I had used that as an effective way to segregate people based on their volume, but that feature was removed and replaced with Twitter lists. There are two problems with this: one, I don’t want to create lists because they externalize to Twitter my patterns of consuming tweets, and that information should be private if I want it to be private. Secondly, when I create a list that contains a person I follow (which might be useful for communicating with direct messaging) I see each tweet by that person twice: once for the all friends group, and once for the list. Often I will see it an additional time if the tweet has a hashtag that I am following via a search. It would be nice, however, if TweetDeck didn’t notify me multiple times about tweets I have already seen. One way to manage that is to let me create groups and to give group membership priority over all friends. When the number of people you follow is moderately large, the ‘all friends’ category becomes somewhat difficult to manage. I would rather use it as a catch-all for those whom I haven’t classified explicitly.

Overall, the tool is much better than others I’ve seen, and I am happy to see them improving the user experience. For example, recently TweetDeck introduced the ability to edit queries for columns without losing the column content, one of my complaints about the earlier design. I hope that some of the issues I described above are also on their to-do list.

2 Comments

  1. I tried TweetDeck a while ago and gave up very soon. The major problems for me were 1) It’s purely a client app, and I used Twitter across multiple machines, so all its groupings couldn’t be shared among the machines 2) Manual maintenance of groupings is not scalable with the growth of the list of people you follow. The UI is nice, but these two problems made it not reallly useful for me

  2. TweetDeck will allow you to share your configuration across different machines if you create an account with them. I think there are two challenges to maintaining groupings: one is to allocate people to groupings when you first follow them; the other is how to deal with burstiness of tweets.

    One problem with TweetDeck that I’ve found is that when I follow someone (through TweetDeck or through some other tool) that person gets added to my all-friends list, but that event is not reflected in the interface. Thus I have to remember that I added the person, and then I have to find the new person in my list of all friends, which is not trivial. It would be better if all friends only showed otherwise un-categorized people, and if there was a persistent visual indication of a status change in that list.

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