Twitter In A Nutshell

Last week I wrote a post that took a look at the 5 stages of ‘getting’ Twitter, which analysed the steps that many people experience on their path to fully understanding the platform: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, ultimately, acceptance.

The article was well-received, and I’ve had lots of responses and feedback from users whose journey was very similar to this outline. Notably, the realisation that Twitter isn’t anything but what YOU make it seems to have been the lightbulb ‘getting it’ moment for many.

Because you can shape and bend Twitter to your will, making it your network, and your experience, a please-all definition of Twitter is always going to be problematic. Moreover, Twitter’s desire to always be told ‘what’s happening?’ means that everything is so constant and so fluid that even defining it at any given moment is incredibly difficult. My journey will always be different to yours, and while there is an inevitable amount of crossover, answering what should be a basic question – what happened on Twitter today? – is at best, awkward. And at worst: folly.

What we need is a fast way to access the best of Twitter. What we need is Twitter in a nutshell.

One of the biggest problems we all face with Twitter is how best to fit it into our busy lives. Sometimes, particularly when you’re new, Twitter can feel like this never-ending, amazing party at this incredible club, and the best you can manage is a quick glance through the window… from across the street. You keep hearing about how Twitter is doing all these important things, but you’ve only got a finite amount of spare time and when you try to get involved it’s just too overwhelming. It’s too much. And what about those times when you’re absent due to a vacation or illness – how can you possibly keep up?

Yes, we have trending topics on Twitter, but that isn’t the same thing at all. I don’t always buy into the popularity equates to mediocrity argument, but if anything exemplifies this type of thinking it’s Twitter’s trending topics. They define mediocrity. At best they’re instantly forgettable; at worst, an easily-manipulated, wasteful and spam-filled garbage dump of crap. They aren’t indicative of my experience on Twitter at all. Nor are they yours.

Instead, Twitter needs a new feature. It needs a what’s happened? button.

Hit this, and you get an immediate summary of the past 24 hours. It would come with filters, which would allow you to see the best of all of Twitter for that day, and another that shows the best of your network. Keywords could be used for additional targeting. Further settings would allow you to see the best of Twitter over the past week and month. Even the past hour would have considerable value, especially for journalists.

What is ‘best’? Best is the most retweeted, read and replied to content, but it could also be personalised against the topics Twitter knows that you have shown an interest about in the past. Think somewhere between Facebook’s Top news and Friendfeed’s Best of Day. We’ll need some fancy algorithms, but this isn’t rocket science – Twitter already has all of this data, but doesn’t do an awful lot with it.

Because Twitter is real time, it can feel like you’re always chasing it. This summary feature would mean that catching up with Twitter would be a breeze. Sure, you’re not getting the same rich experience that comes from being on the network throughout the day, but that’s not always possible – or ideal. If all the time you have is 10-15 minutes after work, Twitter as it is right now doesn’t really work. But with this functionality, this Twitter in a nutshell, it absolutely would.