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

Why can't I follow you?

No good tweet goes unpunished. Popular Twitter accounts draw lots of followers -- until they hit Twitter's glass ceiling.

Twitter places limits on the number of followers a user can have as a way to control spammers and others who abuse the service, but some users complain that the rules aren't always clear, that they keep changing, and that they're not consistently applied. Wallace, who says she was capped at 2,000 followers, calls such artificial limits "bogus." She sees the policy as a blunt instrument that punishes legitimate users in order to filter out a few bad apples.

"It is so de-motivational to cut off legitimate users because another, better solution hasn't been devised," she says. And Wallace chafes at reports that some early users have been exempted from the rules. "This kind of mixed messaging really hurts the Twitter ecosystem," she says. "It makes me feel that some Tweeters are more equal than others."

Twit nit tweet: Sorry, Twitter says I can't follow you. Follower limits penalize power users while spammers simply work around them.

It's hard to see how a policy that ticks off thousands of Twitter's most loyal users is a good strategy to deal with those who abuse the system. Here's a better strategy: Just drop follower limits.

The case of the missing tweet

If you've ever tried to search for an old tweet on Twitter Search and couldn't find it, you're not alone. Twitter loses some tweets, says Search Engine Land's Sullivan. Indeed, this reporter went searching for a tweet that mentioned an interesting company -- but it seems to have disappeared.

Twit nit tweet: Tweets have been known to simply disappear. Why not let users save a backup of their tweets locally?

Sullivan, who wrote about the problem while reporting a story on real-time search, thinks that Twitter should allow users to export their tweets so they can preserve them. What's more, he says, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams has tweeted that "It's on the list" of features Twitter would like to add. No indication as to when, however.

The export function is a good idea. Standards have evolved that allow users to export content from blogs or Gmail messages and contacts in order to import that content into other applications or services, or as a backup. But wouldn't it be better if users could simply trust Twitter not to lose them?

A few more Twitter requests

While the annoyances listed above are the ones we heard most frequently from Twitter users, a few other requests surfaced quite often. Any thoughts of adding these features, Twitter?

  • A retweet button

  • The ability to edit tweets after submission

  • The ability to write longer tweets

  • A way to permanently delete tweets

  • A daily e-mail digest summarizing new followers and unfollowers

  • Notifications -- either via e-mail or with an indicator at Twitter.com -- when new @reply messages arrive

  • Better tools for embedding Twitter feeds on a Web site

Conclusion

Will Twitter address these annoyances or continue to let its developer ecosystem fill in the holes? Will it acquire and integrate at least some best-of-breed third-party tools, as it did with Summize (which it relaunched as Twitter Search) last year? Twitter declined to comment, but Gartner's Mann doesn't see that happening.

More fully featured alternatives are waiting in the wings. Competing short messaging services such as Identi.ca and Jaiku offer a more feature-rich user interface. Neither of those services has the critical mass of users needed to challenge Twitter, which has somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 million users, according to Web audience tracking firm Quantcast Corp. -- but momentum can change quickly. Meanwhile, Facebook's August acquisition of FriendFeed could potentially bring tens of millions of Facebook users onto the competing -- and more fully featured -- social networking service.

"This certainly puts more pressure on them," Mann says, but adds that Twitter still needs to develop its business model, which may involve charging for tools and services that help businesses make sense of all of those tweets. He thinks Twitter is likely to leave the user annoyances to the developers to fix, and instead focus on building -- or acquiring -- tools and services that it can charge for.

If true, that means users are likely going to have to put up with Twitter annoyances -- or hope that third-party tools and services can surmount them -- for the foreseeable future.

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