Twitter is pretty great, but it has problems. The company could solve many of them by offering premium accounts. I would be willing to pay a few bucks a month to get an improved version of the service – one that cuts down on the noise in my Tweet stream, allows me to attract more attention to my really “important” Tweets, and prioritizes credible sources when news is breaking.
To do this, Twitter should take its cue from Sina Weibo, China’s leading microblogging service. Sina Weibo started life as a direct Twitter clone, but it then innovated to meet the demands of its fast-changing local market. This week, it launched a premium option, charging users 10 RMB (US$1.57) a month to get customized homepages, the ability to do audio posts, and better security. Also on the way, according to TechNode, is a smart sorting feature that filters posts according to which ones are most relevant to you (although TechNode’s description is unclear on specifics).
At the risk of sounding like one of those jackassess who thinks he can tell a multi-billion-dollar company how to run its business, I’ve got some other ideas.
My number one complaint about Twitter is that I can’t follow more than 150 people before the service becomes almost totally useless as a “news” feed. I have tried following more than 150 people at once, with zero success. Once the “following” count crosses that magic number, my Tweet stream turns into grating noise, with all those gems tweeted by the likes of Dave Pell and Jack Shafer lost amid the constant babble of people who fancy themselves as micro-wits, or, as I have suddenly decided to call them, netwits. (Do people in America say “nitwits”? If not, that punch line probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of you. I suggest adjusting your nationality accordingly.)
I know the solution to this noise problem is to create lists that will help me enjoy a curated experience by topic, or group, or other Rorschach-ic association. But fuck it, I’m lazy. That’s the same reason I don’t create Facebook groups. The Internet is supposed to reward my inertia, not remind me of it.
So, I want Twitter to pull a Gmail and decide which Tweets are most important for me to see first every time I check my client or visit the site through my browser. It could take the Priority Inbox approach, sorting Tweets by people with whom I have the most follows in common, whoever’s nearby, or who shares a Klout category with me (potentially the only useful thing about Klout ever). It should also let me select these filter options with buttons in the sidebar. That way, the cream will always (read: mostly) float to the top, and hopefully I wouldn’t miss any of the stuff I really care about. Of course, it would be impractical if I were following Tweets in real time, but, seriously, who am I? Robert Scoble? I have better things to do than watch driblets of inania disgorge themselves slow-mo into my field of perception.
Even if Twitter decided against this obviously brilliant auto-filtering suggestion, it could at least let us sort Tweets by ones that have links and ones that don’t. That might seem like a crap idea at first, but I find that the most useful Tweets are usually accompanied by a link to an external article, video, or image. Most other Tweets are personal (“Just tied my shoelace”), misguided attempts at humor (“Wife-swapping donkey to horse: ‘Kiss my ass’”), pathetic over-privileged whining (“This airplane wifi doesn’t stream Vimeo!!!”), or uninvited quotes of inspiration (“Skate where the puck is going – even if it’s going off a cliff”). I figure we can just cut to the important stuff by putting all the tweets that contain links at the top of the stream.
Another thing that bugs me about Twitter – aside from the inexplicable absence of the “Quote Tweet” function from the website – is that we can’t just add hyperlinks to tweets instead of pasting a shortened URL into our 140-character field (a well-worn gripe, I know; and the auto-shortening of long links still takes up a lot of room). Twitter could let premium account holders use hyperlinks, thus buying precious real estate to inform the world in slightly more detail about the precise trajectory of Muffy’s morning vomit.
Perhaps the most important feature of a Twitter premium account, however, would be the option to make occasional Tweets stand out from the crowd. Let’s face it, there are a lot of us who prefer to use Twitter as a broadcasting tool than a reading medium (not naming any names). So, why not let premium account holders send out, say, one tweet a week that gets the “promoted Tweet” treatment, getting highlighted in the stream and perhaps reaching an audience one concentric circle removed from their usual followers. It couldn’t be any more than once a week, because then you’d be at risk of highlighted-tweet overload. Even with such a restriction, Twitter might have to do some algorithmic magic to ensure things don’t get too out of hand.
And while we’re on the subject, premium account holders should be relieved of the burden of ever having to see a “promoted Tweet” from an advertiser in their tweet stream.
Because premium accounters would likely be more active on Twitter than your average Joaquin, it would make sense to offer them threaded conversations, too, just like in Sina Weibo. The way Twitter currently displays conversations is pretty busted, seeing as you often see tweet-versations in fragmented form dispersed through your stream anyway.
And finally, every so often I turn to Twitter when a big news story is breaking and the blogs, newspapers, or TV stations haven’t been able to get it out fast enough. There’s a tsunami in Japan, say, or an earthquake in New Zealand. Or, Allah forbid, a holographic Tupac does an impromptu performance of “Call Me Maybe” on the “Ellen” show. When that shit goes down, I want to be all over it, but I don’t want to have to sort through crap my friends tweet, like “Quake!” or “Tsunami!!” or “Tupac is the next Carly Rae!!!”.
In that case, Twitter should recognize there’s a big news event happening and prioritize Tweets from trusted news sources, such as Reuters, AP, or, hell, just for kicks, CNN. Even if I didn’t follow those accounts, I would appreciate the option of, say, clicking on a “News” tab that takes me straight to the good information.
And yes, I realize I can make a list for that.
And no, I’m not going to do it. As my main girl Carly Rae would say: Call me lazy.