Twitter's popularity may have exploded over the past year, but its feature set continues to evolve at a seemingly glacial pace. New users quickly realize that they need to shop around in the Twitter developer ecosystem for add-on software and Web-based services that fill in missing features and address the annoyances that the microblogging service's deficiencies present.
While this ad-hoc approach to completing Twitter is great for the community of developers working on complementary products, it doesn't foster a coherent environment for users. Twitter Inc. relies heavily on third parties to develop the most basic solutions rather than provide a robust core feature set within its basic service.
To be sure, Twitter has a strong ecosystem of developers who, using Twitter's API, have built applications that address many of the service's shortcomings. "What is amazing to me about Twitter is the degree to which the community has learned to game the system to create work-arounds," says Margaret Wallace, a Twitter enthusiast and CEO of Rebel Monkey Inc., a developer of online games.
"Twitter has gone further in opening up its APIs than most companies, so it is easy to build these things," says Jeffrey Mann, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. For Twitter, he says, the real value is in the tweets, not the tools to make tweets. More developers means more traffic. "They want to build out the platform, not the tools," says Mann. But since no tool does it all, some users end up with a full toolbox.
Wallace finds herself flitting among several different tools that augment or extend her Twitter environment. She regularly depends on Buzzom, Mr. Tweet, Tweetie and TinyURL, and she occasionally turns to WeFollow, Twitterholic and Twitpic to meet her needs.
She's not alone: Computerworld spoke with a variety of sources for this story, from run-of-the-mill users to celebrity tweeters. While individual lists of Twitter annoyances varied a bit, about a dozen criticisms rose to the top. All of the users said that they rely on third-party tools to remedy shortcomings, but the component stereo approach to Twitter has its limits. Most would like to see at least some of the missing features integrated into a more complete offering.
Like Wallace, many users aren't happy about having to move among several different services to manage all aspects of their Twitter environment. Howard Rheingold, a frequent Twitterer, lecturer at Stanford University and author of the book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, thinks more of the core functionality needs to be pulled into one place. "I only have so much patience with installing applications," he says.
We ran several of these criticisms by Twitter for comment -- and received no response. A Twitter PR representative did reply to one initial question for this story but did not reply or acknowledge a more detailed list of questions, despite repeated attempts to contact her over a two-week period. Messages left for others at the company, including co-founder Evan Williams, also went unanswered.
Do these Twitter shortcomings annoy you? Judge for yourself. Here's our list of top annoyances -- and the third-party tools and fixes users say they've come up with to work around them. When you've finished reading, vote in our quick poll to let Twitter know which enhancements you'd most like to see, or discuss your pet Twitter peeves in the article comments.
No support for groups
The inability to group the people you are following into discrete message streams (news, family, friends, etc.) is one of the biggies. Grouping is vital as the number of people you follow and who follow you expands.
Fortunately, the lack of support for groups is one that many third-party tools address very well. The TweetDeck user interface software for Twitter was among the first products to offer support for groups, and it remains one of the most popular Twitter add-ons.
Other tools offer their own unique group features. Laura Fitton, founder and CEO of Pistachio Consulting and a heavy Twitter user, says she likes the fact that PeopleBrowsr groups can follow everyone who has used a specific hashtag, such as #iranelection, while Twitter4Groups lets you set up private notification groups.
Alternative user interfaces do a good job. Still, why not offer at least a basic group functionality within the Twitter interface?