Review: “open” Listorious vs. “closed” new Twitter suggestion list

Twitter today turned off its suggested user list and turned on a new “suggestions” list which includes a nice improvement. The Twitter team explains the changes in a blog post.

The old SUL had four problems:

1. It wasn’t transparent. We didn’t know how it was made and there wasn’t any official way to suggest people for the list.
2. It wasn’t open. For instance, Louis Gray isn’t on the list (either the old one or the new one) and I think he should be on. He isn’t the only one, there are hundreds of tech influencers that I think are worthy of anyone interested in tech to follow and I have a list of 233 of them. Twitter’s new tech list only has 57 people on it.
3. It wasn’t complete. It’s very easy to browse any technology list over on Listorious and compare who is on those lists to Twitter’s own list to see that Twitter’s list only has a small fraction of the people and brands you might want to follow if you were interested in tech.
4. It gifted un-engaged users to people because it was on by default during the setup process. Anil Dash wrote a great post about why that sucked (he was on the list and got hundreds of thousands of followers who didn’t really engage with him). In short, it sucked because people who got on Twitter to listen to celebrities would also follow the geeks because they were added by default. This made Twitter less interesting for newbies because they were seeing people and brands they really didn’t care about.

Today Twitter only fixed point #4. This is a dramatic improvement, yes, but now we see the other problems with the list, especially now that we have Listorious to compare it to (which was made possible by another one of Twitter’s new features, called lists).

So, let’s compare the new Twitter list to a third-party service that I use a lot, Listorious:

Listorious = Open. Twitter = Closed. What do I mean by that? On Listorious if someone is a jerk and leaves you off of a list, just start your own list. You can participate. You can add. And you’ll be treated fairly by the system. If you’re popular, you’ll be listed first but there isn’t any favoritism like what Twitter exhibits with its own directory.

Listorious = Transparent. Twitter = Opaque. What do I mean by that? On Listorious you know who created every list and you can write to them. You know how each list is produced and can figure it out. Most lists are human curated, but some, like the top 50 tech list done by Favstar are curated by algorithms. Now, quick, tell me who created the Twitter list? How did they chose those people and companies? You can’t definitively say either.

Listorious = Complete. Twitter = Incomplete. Look through Listorious’ directories. You’ll see many times more lists on many esoteric subjects when compared with Twitter’s 20 lists. Why is this important? Because if you are looking for information on very specific topics, like, say, you are a Cricket fan. What’s your choice on Twitter? The sports list. What’s your choice on Listorious? Search for Cricket and get dozens of lists back.

Why does this matter? It’s shocking to me that Twitter is still not putting its best foot forward with new users.

Twitter’s growth has slowed and I believe a major reason is because new users aren’t figuring out anything useful to do with Twitter. They aren’t being shown enough other members with interests that match their own!

I’ve talked with normal people about why that is. Over and over they tell me that they can’t find anything interesting to watch on Twitter.

This is a damn shame, because if you just spend a few minutes looking through the lists on Listorious you’ll find something that is very interesting to you personally. But on Twitter? They are still showing a list that’s not open, not transparent, and not complete.

Oh well, at least it’s a little better than last week.

Another way to look at it? Why can I come up with pretty nice lists of the tech industry (I have 20 lists separated out into separate things like venture capitalists, tech news brands, tech executives, web innovators, etc) but Twitter can’t spend more time getting these right?


Review: How should Twitter’s design shift? Seesmic gives us a “look”

When Loic Le Meur, founder of Seesmic, first started telling me about Seesmic‘s new “Look” Twitter client (released today) he said “you will probably hate it.”

Why would I hate it? Because Seesmic had done real customer research and found that lots of people who are using Twitter just don’t understand Twitter and so they set out to develop a client for these normal users, not for geeks like me. They don’t know what things like RT’s or hashtags are. They don’t know how to find interesting people to listen to. They don’t see a point of it and the display is too boring to use (most people want to sit back and be entertained and don’t know that to get the most out of Twitter you should use clients and spend some time over at Listorious to find some curated lists of users).

That pitch is all well and good, but when I finally tried Seesmic Look this morning I see a ton of things that make the old Twitter client seem boring and not nearly as fun.

What are those things?

1. Aesthetics. Twitter is looking dated when compared with the photographic-aesthetic used on Seesmic Look. This caused journalist Dwight Silverman to note that “The Seesmic Look interface is gorgeous in Win7. Really shows what you can do w/Aero.”
2. Discovery of other users. In Seesmic Look they have an “interests” link, which introduces new Twitter users in a number of different interests groups. This is like going to Listorious, searching for something like “politics” and finding a list of Twitterers. Why hasn’t Twitter gotten rid of the very lame Suggested User List yet and integrated Listorious? I don’t get that. That would dramatically improve the Twitter experience for new users.
3. Focus on Tweets. Lots of other clients, including Seesmic’s other clients, focus too much on info density. Getting as many tweets and features on the screen as absolutely possible. Seesmic Look goes the other way, by hiding quite a few features until you need them and making the size of the tweets much bigger. This goes to aesthetics too, but it dramatically changes the relationship a reader has with the Twitterer and also makes possible a new kind of display which includes previews of links and videos.
4. Complete theming/skinning, including for brands. It’s lame that after three years all we have is the ability to change our backgrounds on Seesmic Look shows that we can have complete control of the look and feel of our clients. Want to put a picture in the background and have a beautiful new display? It’s possible with Look, not with Or, if you are CocaCola and want to have a really well themed display? Seesmic Look makes it possible. Why not on RedBull, for instance, has a channel inside Seesmic Look that’s very cool looking and not possible with Brands will go nuts over this kind of theming and skinning.

This said, Seesmic Look comes up short in a number of different areas.

1. My existing lists didn’t work/didn’t import into Look.
2. You can’t use multiple accounts with Look, which is becoming more and more important every day, especially given Twitter’s limitations around lists and lack of filtering.
3. No Facebook integration as with other social media clients including Seesmic’s other clients.
4. Sometimes info-density is what you need, so it would be nice to have a column view built into Look.
5. Figuring out how to navigate around Look not nearly as nice as other parts of the interface. On the navigation menu on my screen right now it says “trends; inbox; social; favorites; interests; channels; searches.” That’s way too many choices for infrequent users and they all shouldn’t be presented with equal weight. Also, Twitter searches bring back way too much noise and spam for normal users. Most users won’t know what’s different between all these choices, too. Tell me again what the difference between “interests” and “channels” are again? Don’t look. I bet you can’t define those cleanly so one needs to go away.
6. I’d love a “watch” mode that was clear so I could put this on one of my screens and just have it automatically refresh like Brizzly does. I didn’t figure out how to do that.
7. In “Interests” mode, the navigation takes up too much screen real estate. I’d like to select an interest and just “watch” it on my screen. After a few seconds it would be nice to get rid of all non-Tweet navigation elements.
8. Trends needs a rethink. Trends are, to most users, pretty lame and pretty useless even when they are interesting. The top level trends? They trend toward pablum, which is one problem. But even if they don’t (very rarely are they actually interesting) if you click through you’ll get tons of spam. We need a better trend system. I’d love to see one based on retweets and favorites of lists of people you choose (or that other people curate). I’d love to see what Mike Arrington’s friends are trending to him, for instance. That would be far more interesting than a huge crowd picking the lamest of trends. For instance, I really could care less about Conan O’Brien and his fight with NBC. It might have been interesting a week ago, but now? It’s just lame and brings new noise into my view.
9. There’s still too much “jargon” in the Look interface. Mouse over the icon for Direct Messages. Now you and I know what those are, right? But normal people don’t. And Seesmic doesn’t do a better job of explaining what they are than does. Demonstrates there’s still improvements that can be made.
10. Lists are not transparent. Click on “Interests.” You can then click on a variety of topics like business and tech. Unfortunately these lists are WAY too narrow (the business list, for instance, hardly has anyone on it) and aren’t easily customizable and Seesmic has way too much control of who appears on these lists. (Disclaimer: they included me on the tech list). A much better way would be to provide a seed list and at bottom include a link to Listorious. Here’s Listorious’ business list, for instance. This is a LOT more transparent and you could add your own list then (which you can on Listorious).

Anyway, my 90 minute review of Seesmic Look? It brings a much-needed new “look” to Twitter, but doesn’t go far enough. It does show Twitter’s own team how badly a redesign is needed, though, and hopefully does shove all Twitter and Facebook clients to focus on aesthetics and filtering and a focus on real users. Overall I like the direction but it needs a bit more work to make it a client I’d be able to use every day.

One thing that Seesmic has going for it, too, is that it has clients on almost every platform except for iPhone (which Loic tells me is coming “within weeks”) but so far I don’t see good common themes between all of their clients. It will be interesting to see how Seesmic evolves its family of clients and makes them useful with each other. Right now it doesn’t seem like these are developed by the same company with a common vision and that may prove troubling for Seesmic over the long term. If Seesmic Look is the training wheels to get new users into Twitter, I don’t see a good upgrade path to their more “professional” clients like Seesmic Web or Seesmic Desktop, not to mention any commonality between their Android client and their other clients.