Twitter client writers need to up their game. We all know you can write to the Twitter API and display 14-character tweets for those who I follow and maybe each user’s thumbnail, and a couple icons here and there to show whether a message is a reply or something I authored, and so on.
But none of the Twitter clients go far enough I think. None.
As you know, I’ve been a long time advocate of Twitter thinking beyond text. I accept the fact that it’s not going to happen. However, it doesn’t stop Twitter clients from working around the text biased limitation and emulating a richer experience. So here’s what I’m asking for: Add support for inline images and possibly audio or video in the clients. If you see a URL to flickr, show the flickr image in the tweet. If you see a URL in a tweet. Show a thumbnail preview of the site. If you see a link to an audio file, include an embedded audio player so I can listen to whatever it is without having to click out of the Twitter client experience. And if you see a link to a video site, see if you can embed a video preview in the message. For those of you interested in watching live videos like those by Robert Scoble and the like, just image what could be done here too. It could bring a whole new mindset to tracking news on Twitter too, I bet.
The arguments for and against supporting non-text media natively in Twitter is kind of like the original web arguments as to whether images should be rendered in a browser or whether images should be embedded within email messages or provided as external links. By and large I think those arguments are over. For the vast majority of users the answer is yes. For a handful of others who don’t want it, the answer is to turn off images or use a text only browser. These people, however, are in the minority. Let’s just accept this fact and move on. The Twitter client authors need to make this happen.
Of all the Twitter clients, GTalk is probably the closest to providing a good media experience for Twitter messages. Depending on whether you point to Flickr let’s say, it’ll give you access to your Flickr image. (Last time I checked though the link has to be a real Flickr URL, not a tinyurl.) The problem is the approach is Flash biased and doesn’t go far enough. There’s lots more to support direct Flickr content as well as content from other sites.
Unfortunately, most tweets don’t contain the full address at all. Many use tinyurl or some other URL shortening services. So what GTalk and all the other Twitter clients ought to be doing is following through links. If you see a tinyurl or similar, you have to chase it down. You have to see what it really points to and then render something more meaningful in the tweet message area if it makes sense.
OK, here’s what the Snitter client typically looks like for me what I’m wathing Twitter messages:
Note that there are two URLs mentioned in two different tweets. This happens all the time. People are pointing to one of their most recent posts or sometimes some breaking news. But URLs being URLs many times I can’t tell what the paths point to. Give me a thumbnail preview of the site to help me out in deciding whether I should click on a link rather than me having to play URL roulette. Is this another link to truemors, or a link to actual news? I want to know.
So here’s one cobbled of idea of what these tweets ought to look like in my book:
Both tweets that reference URLs have thumbnail previews substituted or supplied for them. Isn’t this more interesting to read and give you a quicker and better idea as to what the person is pointing to?
There are lots of interesting questions here as to how thumbnail previews or images or audio or video and the like ought to be rendered inline with tweets. For instance, should the images be placed at the end of the tweets or the urls substituted with images with text wrapped around or the images right justified or what? Or maybe site thumbnails shouldn’t be used, but rather thredr or Techmeme style image excerpts ought to be extracted from the sites and right justified? Or maybe only take image excerpts on certain news sites or from blog posts? And if site previews are used, should tinyurls at the end of posts be displayed or simply dropped? Lots of possibilities.
Let’s face it, thumbnail previews for sites make complete sense. So do replacing Flickr URLs with the images they are pointing to.
During the next major earthquake or flood or storm don’t you want to see an embedded Twitter image rather than just the link to a page that you have to visit to find out if it’s a link to an image or a news website you’ve already read or to a blog that links to a blog that links to the image you want to see? And I think a compelling argument can be made that live videos ought to be embedded too. Maybe I do or don’t want to watch the video. Give me a few seconds at least of content to decide.
There’s more to it than this, though. I think we’re missing some great non-text conversations. I can’t remember what debate was going on the other day, but it was something silly and although I wanted to respond with something appropriately silly and pointing out some irony yet I decided not to post anything because in such a short text message it’s so easy to be misunderstood. So I said nothing. But it struck me at the time, that what I really would have liked to do was share my thoughts in a cartoon. There’s a reason why political cartoons are so popular in print media. Why can’t they be too in the Twitter community? I’d love to see Hugh Macleod’s drawings inplace. They’d be perfect. And I think we’d see lots more creative types joining in with their edgy commentary if Twitter clients would work better to support non-text.
I think we’re missing some terrific opportunities for quick visual commentary. Some of these might be photos snapped at the most recent Apple event, or someone sharing a sunny day in their backyard, or someone drawing a cartoon that more poignently than any sequence of 140 characters gets to the real point of an issue. Yes, sometimes things are better said in wiggles than words.
Of course, all of this should be a feature so those that don’t want it can turn it off. However, I’m convinced that if we broke out of this text bias we’d see lots of interesting use of non-text content.
What do you say Twitter client authors? How about it? It’s not that hard.