Twit nits: 12 top Twitter annoyances

What's missing, what's exasperating, what you can do about it -- and what Twitter should do about it

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Weak follower management

As with groups, the lack of good follower management features has led to a bounty of third-party tools designed to fill in the gaps.

How do you identify who's following you and whether you should follow them back? With the tools that Twitter provides, that's not easy. Twitter simply lists followers in the order they were added, along with their last tweet. You can't sort that list differently, and to see more detail, such as each person's bio, number of followers, recent activity and other statistics, you must click through to each user's Twitter home page. It's cumbersome, especially when you're managing a large group of followers.

"The lack of decent follower tools has spawned a cottage industry in itself," Wallace says. Web sites like My Tweeple, Mr. Tweet and Buzzom make searching and managing follower and following lists easier.

Michaela Vorvoreanu is an assistant professor at Purdue University's College of Technology who studies the impact of Twitter and other communications technologies on the culture and society -- and is a frequent Twitterer herself. She'd like to see Twitter do better in this area.

"I'd like to be able to sort through the list of followers by various criteria, such as alphabetical order, Twitter activity, date joined, date followed, whether they're following me back, etc.," she says. She'd also like to see detailed information in the notification e-mail when someone follows her, along with an embedded "follow" button. For now, however, she uses Topify and says that it "does most of those things for me."

Ineffective support for short URLs

This sounds like a little nit, but if you embed a lot of links in your tweets this lack of attention to detail on Twitter's part quickly becomes a big deal. Twitter shortens URLs in a tweet after you publish it, rather than when you're composing the message. With only 140 characters to work with, users would like to have that short URL when composing the message, rather than after the fact.

To get around the problem, users must switch over to a site like or to create a short URL, then return to Twitter and paste the result into the message.

It doesn't have to be this way. Some third-party Twitter clients, such as TweetDeck, shorten the URL automatically. With others, such as Seesmic Desktop, you paste a long URL in a separate space and hit Enter and get a shortened version that's pasted onto the end of your tweet. Twitter should do the same.

The fail whale: No endangered species

For regular Twitter users, a sighting of the service's infamous "fail whale" is an all-too-frequent occurrence. "The most annoying thing is the reliability of the [Twitter] service," says Vorvoreanu.

While Twitter is better than it was a year ago, Wallace says it's still not uncommon for her to get the fail message several times in a day. "On the most basic level -- the user experience -- the service is unreliable," she says.

In one sense that's understandable, given Twitter's meteoric rise. Twitter says that its user base grew 900% between January 2008 and January 2009. Media metrics tracker Nielsen Online puts Twitter's year-over-year growth rate at an astounding 1,928%, with unique visitors per month surging from 1.03 million in June 2008 to 20.9 million in June 2009.

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Twitter's "fail whale" (indicating a system outage or server overload condition) is seen all too frequently.

That's a lot to handle. But the persistence of reliability problems over time still bothers users like Wallace. "I just don't understand why they don't migrate to a more stable network and address what seem to be issues of reliability and scale," she says.

Scalability isn't Twitter's only concern when it comes to uptime and reliability. As Twitter's popularity continues to skyrocket, it has become more of a target for hackers -- witness last month's crippling DDoS attack against the service. That makes it doubly important for the company to develop a robust and stable architecture.

Limited by API limits

Twitter's not responding. What's wrong? If you use third-party applications to access the service, it might just be that you've exceeded your API limits.

Say what?

"I'm sure a lot of Twitter users don't understand how they reached the API call limit, let alone what an API call is in the first place," Wallace says.

Third-party applications, or "clients," use the Twitter API to interact with the service, but Twitter limits such activity to a certain number of API calls (information requests) per hour. Refreshes of tweet, @reply and direct message feeds through an interface like TweetGrid or TweetDeck, for example, can quickly use up API calls, especially during conferences or other events where constant Twittering takes place. And when a user goes over the limit, it's not always clear what has happened.

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