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10K character limit? Algorithmic timeline? Nah – here’s the real problem with Twitter

I love Twitter. Unlike Facebook, which is now bloated, advert-infested and full to the brim of strange family members recounting the most mundane tales of everyday life imaginable, it still feels lithe, vibrant and full of individual opinions.

It is also a superb source for news and acts as my own personal Moira Stuart every morning. In fact, now I think about it, Twitter is usually the first thing I look at when I wake and the last thing I see before I fall asleep. Aside from my wife, obviously.

There’s been an awful lot of talk in the tech press recently about two changes that may or may not be heading Twitter’s way. One is an increase from the 140 character limit to 10,000. I agree that this will all but demolish one of the service’s most treasured features which is its ability to force users to be swift with their opinions (trust me, if I could implement a 140 character limit in most social and commercial situations, I wouldn’t think twice), but I’d be rather surprised if it turned out to be true. It’s far more likely to have been a nifty bit of PR designed to throw some much needed press attention Twitter’s way.

The second change has actually arrived, after much speculation. Dubbed ‘timeline personalisation’, it promises to push ‘tweets you are likely to care about most’ to the top of your timeline. Unfortunately, no one seems to know what on earth that means, or how it works out what tweets are likely to be favoured by users. It also took all of about three seconds for the change to start causing chaos with some rather significant entities.

In my book, the timeline changes come frustratingly close to answering what I’ve always thought has been Twitter’s achilles heel. What’s that? I hear three of you ask. Well, for as long as I’ve loved Twitter, I’ve never really understood how to use it.

The problem is that I religiously try to keep my Twitter ‘reading place’ intact. I work bottom up, viewing tweets in chronological order and, if I’m interrupted, simply hope that when I next open the app it’ll remember where I finished off. I don’t want to miss out, see.

This has unfortunately made cross-platform use of Twitter near impossible, because the service doesn’t synchronise your progress through the timeline. It also makes post Twitter app updates a nail biting experience due to the many times such an event has decided to immediately direct me to the most recent tweets, thus destroying my Twitter reading regime. It is a first world problem of the highest order.

I’ve often wondered if I’m doing it right. Perhaps not. But, then, I’ve never successfully found anyone else who seems to be quite as concerned about this inherent Twitter usability issue as I am.

So, Twitter: do what you like with the timeline. Just introduce synchronisation across devices and please, for the love of all that is holy, ensure the app remembers where I’d scrolled to after an update.

That’s all I ask.

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