Strongly Emergent

What comes from combining humans, computers, and narrative

Twitter's Bickering Design

Today I was reminded of Mike Monteiro’s note on Twitter vs. Google+ stream design via MG Siegler’s response. They gave me words for something that bothers me about Twitter’s interaction design— or rather, a feature of Twitter that I think leads people to make dumb choices. Statements all look the same. My link to an adorable kitty has the same visual weight as my serious summary of a political position, my off-the-cuff oversimplification of something I earnestly believe, or my cranky nitpicking reply to something you said.

Now, this is not to say that users should be able to control that visual weight. Part of why MySpace sucked is that people could present their stuff any old way, which led to a de facto shouting contest. Similarly, the “urgent” flag in email is useless because very few people have the same rubric about when to apply it and it’s trivial for a few antisocial idiots to make the signal impossible to rely on.

However, we also—everyone is subject to this—tend to read everything on Twitter in the same register, because it’s visually alike. Normally “oh, you can’t read tone on the Internet” is a canard. You can read tone just fine when someone who can actually write tone is trying to convey is, and conveying it is a learnable skill. Twitter, though, has a combination of constraints (length and visual weight) that makes it very easy for readers to read “I disagree with this portion of your argument and here’s a link about why” as “you are so wrong, you’re an awful person and also you smell funny.”

I try to use this to keep myself from getting into arguments on Twitter. It is a great medium for some things. Longform conversations — nope! I’m jazzed about my Branch invite, I hope that that or Medium builds something interesting on top of Twitter (assuming that Twitter consents to let someone build; lately they seem to be more interested in killing off all the good things about the service).

Postscript: the image in Monteiro’s post is a dead link, but I grabbed it from and here it is on imgur.