The Features It Needs Next: Twitter

By Andrew Sparkes
Guest Blogger

As part of an on-going series, we’ll be looking at the features that top hardware, software, and websites already have and imagining the features it would be logical and useful to add in the next update. Today we’re examining Twitter.

Twitter is an extremely bare-bones site. It’s what you might expect from a service that only allows 140 characters – no more – to a post. However, there are ways that Twitter could be made more useful without adding complexity or changing the nature of the service.

Groups

I recently designed a blog with multiple authors for a friend of mine, and we needed to dragging each author’s Twitter feed to a sidebar widget. While it’s possible to do this with Twitter feed aggregation, it’d be a lot better if it was available from Twitter. This was especially true when we realized that including the author’s entire feed would include personal tweets we really weren’t interested in mixed in with the blog-related tweets we were.

Now, group options have been achieved by third-party developers (assuming you prefix the tweet with @groupname, costing you valuable characters.) However, it’s an obvious need for any social network to have “groups.” I’m confused as to why it hasn’t been implemented already.

You could just set up a single Twitter feed and give each person in the group the password. (This is the solution I ended up compromising on for my friend’s blog.) But that’s problematic because the more people that share a password, the more chance it is to fall in the hands of a malicious user. There’s also the question of identity – who in a shared Twitter account posted which tweets?

I think that Twitter should emulate Blogger or WordPress, where a user can set up a group with a username, and then invite other users to participate. Each user has their own personal Twitter feed, but is also able to post group-specific tweets. The URL could be as simple as http://twitter.com/group/groupname – to distinguish it from regular Twitter accounts.

For those reading the group Twitter feed, the design would be the same as a normal Twitter page, with the exception of usernames and avatars appearing before tweets they make. In fact, it would be very much like when you view a Twitter search results page, or when you view your friend’s tweets on the homepage once you log in.

Widgets

Twitter has a sidebar. One of the primary features in other sites’ sidebars nowadays is to allow widgets. So, why hasn’t Twitter allowed this yet?

With widgets, we could have a “blogroll” of specific Twitter users the user prefers, rather than a list of all twitter users they follow. Other applications could include a local map with pins showing where other local Twitter users are – useful if a local event comes up, or a “favorite tweets from other users” list using the already-implemented star feature.

As with Blogger, if the public themselves were allowed to write these widgets and contribute them to a database (after moderation and approval, of course), this would go a long way to personalizing a Twitter page, and add to the blossoming community aspect of the network.

Custom CSS

While we are currently allowed to change the color/background elements of a page, there is no way to change the whole appearance of a page. I’m not suggesting that we allow WordPress-style templates, where everything in HTML can be changed, but Twitter could open the CSS classes[link to Wikipedia here] to the public.

I know part of the appeal of Twitter, as on Facebook, is a consistent design across pages, but when it already allows silver text on a maroon background with a grey sidebar, how much more damage can custom CSS do, anyway?

Your Dream Features:

If you could add any feature to Twitter, what would it be? And what do you think of the ideas in this article? Comment below to chip in with your ideas!

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9 Responses to The Features It Needs Next: Twitter

    • I totally agree with you. This simplicity makes Twitter better IMHO and there is no need for widgets…

      Custom CSS is good idea.

    • I totally agree with you. This simplicity makes Twitter better IMHO and there is no need for widgets…
      Custom CSS is good idea.

  1. About the group thing, I think hashtags are meant for that. Multiple users can tag their tweets with a certain hashtag, and then you can have an aggregate with all tweets with that particulat hashtag.

    I don't really think that Custom CSS and Widgets are that important.

    I believe twitter has to work more on it's interface. They can add a Retweeting button, and a way to follow conversations between users, something like http://baralbait.com/twall2wall. They can also allow people to embed multimedia content into their tweets.

  2. So screw Twitter and use Identi.ca. It at least has groups and lets you change more color settings than Twitter does. And hell, if you want to, you can setup your own Laconi.ca server and follow people on Identi.ca or Twit.army.tv or…whatever other Open MicroBlogging (OMB) server you want, and they can follow you.

  3. So screw Twitter and use Identi.ca. It at least has groups and lets you change more color settings than Twitter does. And hell, if you want to, you can setup your own Laconi.ca server and follow people on Identi.ca or Twit.army.tv or…whatever other Open MicroBlogging (OMB) server you want, and they can follow you.

  4. About the group thing, I think hashtags are meant for that. Multiple users can tag their tweets with a certain hashtag, and then you can have an aggregate with all tweets with that particulat hashtag.

    I don't really think that Custom CSS and Widgets are that important.

    I believe twitter has to work more on it's interface. They can add a Retweeting button, and a way to follow conversations between users, something like http://baralbait.com/twall2wall. They can also allow people to embed multimedia content into their tweets.

  5. Coming back to this article a couple of years on, Twitter's certainly gone above and beyond the 'groups' feature with the not-so-new-anymore Lists.

    Sure hashtags worked on some level, but the second an 'unofficial' group member posted a tweet with that hashtag, they'd be part of the hashtag's feed, so it'd, once again, be useless. I meant using it so, say, three hosts of a podcast, and only those three hosts, could post official tweets to their podcast's 'group'. Now, with a public List they're the only members of, they can.

    Twitter's simplicity IS nice, don't get me wrong, and two years on, I'm glad widgets and CSS aren't an option – I've outgrown my need to control everything on a webpage for uniformity. But the few features they have added in the meantime (Lists, Retweets and Twitter-hosted photos) sure are useful without compromising on that lovable simplicity.

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