Eleven ways to improve Twitter

A list of ambitious ideas for making Twitter a better place to post that will never, ever be adopted.

Brief digression from the usual political stuff: as a Twitter Power User, I have a lot of ideas about how one could make the platform a lot better. Most people will hate at least some of these proposals, but I think that True Posters will appreciate their wisdom. So here, in no particular order: eleven ways to improve Twitter.

1) LIMIT PUBLIC INFORMATION ABOUT A USER’S FOLLOWERS AND FOLLOWS. Displaying the count of a user’s total number of followers encourages clout-chasing. Displaying information about who a user follows encourages follow-policing. To fix both problems Twitter should restrict what information about a user’s followers and follows is available to other posters.

Specifically: the count and list of a poster’s followers should only display people who follow you too, and who you follow back. This can help you decide whether you should follow the poster. The count and list of people the poster follows, meanwhile, should only display people who follow you, too. This can help you decide whether or not to follow any of them.

2) PASSIVE UNFOLLOWING. Since Twitter requires you to affirmatively unfollow anyone you are currently following, it has no way to facilitate the natural drifting apart that sometimes happens between friends and acquaintances. This creates all kinds of recurring problems. For one thing, it encourages clout-chasing as people accumulate followers who they don’t actually communicate with or pay attention to anymore. For another, it often guarantees drama and hurt feelings if you do decide to unfollow someone.

Twitter could easily fix this problem by just automatically unfollowing any poster who you haven’t replied to or retweeted within a given period of time (say, one year). As the deadline approaches some kind of notice might by visible to you next to the person’s name in your following list and on their tweets, but they will not be notified about any of this.

3) TAGS INSTEAD OF LISTS. As they currently operate, Twitter lists essentially let you follow people without following them. And private lists encourage parasocial surveillance while discouraging actual following.

Instead, Twitter should let you add tags to people who you follow, and then allow you to filter your feed with these tags. This would provide the same organizational functionality as lists have while forcing you to actually follow the people who you want to see on your feed.

Lists, meanwhile, should simply be collections of accounts that one can choose to follow or not follow. For example, the WWE might create a list of its roster of wrestlers, and anyone could look at that list and choose which wrestlers to follow.

4) TEEN DISCLOSURE: Twitter should always indicate in a poster’s profile, and perhaps with some icon on all of their tweets, if they are under twenty years old. This would prevent all kinds of creepy or ridiculous situations — for example, the recurring phenomenon of adults discovering an hour into some political debate that they have been arguing with a 15-year-old.

5) NO GROUP DMs. One of the biggest and yet least-recognized shifts in Twitter culture over the past decade has been the fragmentation and retreat of much of its user base into private group DMs. Before this shift posters were forced to co-exist in the same arena; the timeline facilitated much more socialization and much less unidirectional stage / soapbox type posting. I don’t think that retaining 1-on-1 DMs would be a big deal, but sorry — for the sake of the timeline, the group DMs have gotta go.

6) NO LOCKED ACCOUNTS. Like group DMs, locked accounts can easily turn into a mechanism for fragmenting the discourse into small private niches, and this in turn stifles precisely the sort of socialization that Twitter ought to encourage. If you want private posts or conversations, use another platform or try “email”.

7) NO MUTING PEOPLE WHO YOU FOLLOW. The ability to follow someone while also muting them just encourages reciprocal clout-chasing strategies; there’s no good reason one should be able to do this.

8) REDESIGNED BLOCKS. The current system is just completely dysfunctional; it does not accomplish many of the basic things it sets out to do, but it does succeed in making the site less usable for everyone. Four ways blocks should change:

  • Twitter tries to prevent blocked posters from viewing a blocker’s tweets, but this does not actually work, since anyone can always view any given tweet by simply logging out or opening an incognito window. All this feature actually does is encourage all kinds of obnoxious behavior on the site — people posting screencaps of the block page, or a dozen replies to any given quote-tweet that go “I’m blocked, what does it say?” Twitter should just give up on this and let anyone view anyone else’s tweets.

  • Similarly, Twitter tries to prevent blocked posters from quote-tweeting a blocker’s tweets — but this does not actually work either, because everyone just gets around the block by either using a screencap or manually adding a link to the tweet. All this feature really does is fill the timeline with poorly cropped, unsearchable screencaps or “quote-tweets” featuring an unexpanded link that you have to click on to see what is being quoted. Twitter should just give up on this approach and let anyone quote-tweet anyone.

  • Instead, what a block should actually do is prevent a blocked user’s quote-tweet from showing up here:

    The blocker will still get a notification about the blockee’s quote-tweet like she would for any other; people who follow the blocker, however, will never know about it unless they happen to follow the blockee, too.

  • A block should also, of course, prevent a blocked user from replying to a blocker’s tweet. Additionally, it should also prevent the blocked user from replying to any tweet that is down-thread from the blocker. In other words, if I have you blocked, you should not be able to reply to my tweets - or to replies to my tweets either.

9) BLOCK FILTERS: You should be able to block people not just on an individual basis, but also based on general criteria such as

  • Their age, if you simply don’t want to interact with teenagers;

  • Whether their account is more than (say) six months old or has more than (say) 100 followers — two strong indications that an account is someone’s burner;

  • If they have a blue check;

  • If some word or phrase appears in their bio.

10) TWEETS DEFAULT TO AUTO-DELETE. Anything you tweet should be automatically deleted after a certain time period - say, 24 hours, or a week, or a month. This would always happen by default; the only way to prevent it would be if you affirmatively hit “save” on a given tweet before its timer ran out. This mechanic would encourage posters to use Twitter less like a permanent log of notes and more like a place to chat in real time, but while still giving them the opportunity to save tweets that they like.

11) NEW BLUE CHECK RULES. The main reason Twitter displays follower counts in the first place is to allow public figures, brands, and organizations to signal their popularity. And without this, they are less likely to participate on Twitter. For this reason, verified accounts (IE, those with a blue check) should be able to display their count of total followers.

However, blue checks accounts should also have certain limitations. To impede the incestuous interpromotion that they’re notorious for, blue checks should not be able to retweet or quote-tweet other blue checks. They should not be able to block normal accounts. And their tweets should not auto-delete.

Finally: any user should be able to become a blue check, or switch back to operating as a normal account, with a toggle in the settings. This would retain its basic functionality for marketers and such, but would get rid of the ridiculous elitism that comes with the check.

Photo credit: Weston Renound, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.