As one of the foundational platforms behind the rise of quick-hitting news and viral marketing campaigns on the internet, Twitter has secured its position as an indispensable source and form of communication for everyone from social media aficionados to journalists to corporations. Although Twitter’s user experience has always been good, the latest redesign of its Android app brings its look into the modern era and reestablishes it as a solid platform for discovery.
Information at All Times
Even during the typical setup process of creating an Account and allowing permissions, Twitter pushes you towards content. It suggests accounts to add based on interests you select or your existing contacts and gets you ready for sharing your updates and opinions.
For the uninitiated, Twitter enables you to broadcast your thoughts to general or targeted audiences in 140 characters or less (not including usernames or multimedia links). You can use hashtags (words or short descriptions preceded by the ‘#’ symbol) to help you relate posts to trending topics or direct them to specific accounts (using the ‘@’ symbol).
For example, if you happen to be the victim of yet another delay courtesy of NYC’s MTA, send your respectful comments straight to the MTA (and the other 8.5 million New Yorkers who feel the same way) by appending #MTA to your Tweet. You can also tap on a hashtag to see all the related posts. #MTA, for example, features lovely messages about the MTA’s competence and reliability.
Note that while an @ Tweet will show up in the target’s @ notifications, it’s still a public Tweet. If you want to communicate privately, you can use a direct message or DM. Note, however, that private communication is definitely not the point of Twitter, and that “sliding into” a stranger’s DMs uninvited is generally considered rude and risks making you seem like a Twitter bumpkin.
Aside from that, you can favorite tweets with the heart icon, retweet them, or reply to them directly (which adds an @ to your tweet). Following the accounts of your favorite people, groups, or corporations will ensure you don’t miss an update. There’s also the option to send direct messages to individual accounts. It’s still not very intuitive to see who retweeted or favorited a post, as you have to tap on the word “favorite” or “retweet” to get this information, but the app now integrates badge counts underneath each tweet.
Twitter has grown well beyond just text-based communication and now includes options to share photos or videos, GIFs, and polls within a tweet. There’s also the option to live stream video directly from your phone if you want to share a moment with all your followers. All these iterative developments feel like a natural expansion of Twitter’s abilities without getting into feature-creep territory. The app lets you save drafts simply by composing a tweet and then hitting the back button instead of send, but you still can’t schedule them.
To start a live stream, just tap the Compose button and then hit Live. Your followers can watch and comment on all of your live videos and you can even set up notifications for when other accounts start a live stream. It’s not yet a complete service for consuming hours of video content, but, like Twitter itself, it’s one of the best ways to experience live events as they happen. Twitter has secured a few major subscription deals this year and will host live MLB and WNBA events, as well as 24/7 news coverage from Bloomberg.
Although they are not direct competitors, Twitter offers more robust features than the open-sourced, micro-blogging site, Mastodon, particularly when it comes to the types of content you can share. Twitter is also much simpler to use and has a larger user base. However, Mastodon permits users to use up to 500 characters per post and arguably takes a smarter approach to managing its communities.
A Much-Needed Design Refresh
I used a Google Pixel to experience Twitter’s latest look first-hand, and I enjoyed its refined Material Design in my testing. Twitter’s redesign features a more modern aesthetic and elegant rounded iconography. There’s also a new squared-off reply icon, which Twitter says helps prevent confusion with the back button. Profile pictures are also now circular, which matches the trend of other popular social media apps, such as Instagram or LinkedIn. The iconic Twitter blue is used sparingly to accent icons or shortcut buttons, such as the quick compose button in the bottom-right corner.
The core functionality remains the same and Twitter’s focus on rapid communication has not changed in the latest version. The timeline still delivers a constant stream of updates, highlights, and conversations at a breakneck pace. When you open the app, you’ll find a familiar timeline with all the latest tweets from people you follow and a few sponsored ones as well. It’s worth noting that your timeline’s content will only be compelling if you follow interesting accounts. The same idea applies to your own profile page as well. Chances are that if you only tweet about yourself, your stream of tweets and favorites will look awfully dull to other people and no one will want to follow you.
The search page shows the day’s top headlines and trending tags, which are usually related to each other. If you keep scrolling down, there is a dedicated section for “Today’s Moments,” (recent and notable events that might be worth your attention), a collection of live video streams to watch, as well as other categories to explore, including news, sports, entertainment, and fun. I find this section great for getting up to date on the latest news and developing stories.
The notification tab shows every interaction involving your account or tweets but also highlights trending tweets from people you follow. If you are worried about receiving too many notifications (which you should be), you can create advanced filters, mute certain terms from appearing, or even hide the notification-count badge completely.
From any of the main tabs, swiping from the left brings up access to your individual profile as well as any lists, moments, or highlights you’ve saved. There’s also a night mode and a dedicated option for scanning Twitter-generated QR codes (to follow accounts) built into the menu.
Plenty of Privacy
Twitter includes a good range of native security features, so it’s definitely worth spending some time to familiarize yourself with them. For example, you might want to set your account to Private, so that only followers that you approve can see your tweets or send you direct messages. You can also easily block specific accounts from your profile if someone makes you uncomfortable, or mute any words or phrases you find offensive or annoying. With the rapid pace of online interactions and the sheer size of Twitter’s community, it’s important to enable two factor authentication, which helps prevent people from hacking into your account or gaining unwarranted access. As a benefit, enabling this can also prevent mishaps or communication disasters.
You can customize how Twitter uses your personal data to tailor your timeline in Settings and view exactly what details it has collected thus far. Viewing and editing any of this information in-app is possible as well, which is a nice show of transparency, but it’s still disconcerting to see it all in one place. Even more concerning is that Twitter requires a slew of permissions, such as access to your location and contact list during setup.
As with any social media app, Twitter’s success depends on a simultaneously active and growing user base. Twitter’s monetization issues are no secret, and it may soon launch paid subscriptions for professionals via TweetDeck as a new revenue source, but this likely doesn’t concern the majority of its users. We’re also concerned by the prevalence of trolls on Twitter and the effectiveness of Twitter’s current policies regarding flagged accounts. Neither of these problems specifically concerns the app itself, but they will certainly affect your experience with Twitter.
For now, Twitter’s excellent app design and iterative features will certainly help retain audiences, since it succeeds in creating compelling moment-to-moment interactions. The latest iteration is not particularly innovative, but its unchanged core set of features helps Twitter maintain its chaotic appeal.