Are Twitter, Google, Facebook doomed to bloat?

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By Charman-Anderson /  09 Dec 2011 , 19:57

Remember the old Twitter, the one where there was just a box that asked “What are you doing?” and a stream of replies from people you knew? I yearn for those days, when Twitter knew what it was, we knew what it was for and we were willing to do anything to support this plucky little start-up.

Those simple days are long behind us as Twitter embarks on the next leg of its mission to, well the only word that adequately sums up what Twitter is doing with its new redesign is “complexificationing”. Hot on its heels of redesign that created the annoying @Username and Activity tabs, Twitter has now created a sleeker, cleaner design that, frankly, sucks. The web version is rolling out gradually, as usual, but if you want to see how it will work take a look at the mobile website or mobile apps.

The redesign seems to be based on how they want users to behave, rather than how they actually do. The new @ tab, which you would assume would be your Mentions, defaults now to Interactions, which is the same as the now-old-Twitter’s @username tab. If you actually want just your @ messages, you need to click the new sub-tab, Mentions.

Now, remember the Dickbar: the annoying black bar at the top of the iPhone app that promoted trending topics and ads which everyone hated and that Twitter had to embarrassingly remove shortly after it launched? That’s now the Discover tab where you find search (such that it is), hashtags, trends, and suggestions for who to follow. Basically, all the stuff that isn’t really about you but which Twitter really wishes you’d pay more attention to.

Finally, the Me tab. As John Gruber, in an excellent overview of #NewNewTwitter at Daring Fireball, says:

“Me”. Oh boy. Stashed into this tab are your profile, your direct messages, your Twitter Lists, and the interface for switching to other Twitter accounts. This tab is the conceptual carpet under which Twitter swept everything that didn’t fit under “Home”, “Connect”, or “Discover”.

Direct messages, which used to be in the menu bar, is now buried under three taps. We can only assume that Twitter either thinks no one sends DMs or really wishes that they wouldn’t, because no sensible person would hide a key bit of functionality like this.

I find myself entirely unsurprised that New New Twitter is so terrible. Twitter stopped focusing on what users do and want a long time ago. They even threw a fit at developers, many of whom do think about that stuff, telling them not to bother replicating anything Twitter already does, like making apps or desktop clients, or else.

It seems as if Twitter is stuck on the Trajectory of Suck, where each new redesign, each new feature takes Twitter further and further away from its original mission. Sadly, it’s not alone.

Mark Zuckerberg shows off the new Facebook Timeline. Getty Images

Also rocketing along towards suckitude is Facebook. A social network with privacy settings so complexificationated that you need a PhD to work them out. Facebook, too, has been through multiple redesigns, each one adding more and more functionality, not all of which users like or want. Frictionless sharing, the news feed, subscriptions and more, all wrapped up in a counterintuitive, confusing and visually hideous user interface.

And then there’s Google, spreading the redesign pixiedust over all of its products, one by one. Take the new Gmail: The blandness of the colour scheme makes it hard to see which emails have been read and which haven’t. The default setting it too widely spaced (you have to pick “compact” from the settings to get a view like the old version). The Compose button, now huge and red, dominates the sidebar and looks like it was designed by an eight year old. Text buttons like Archive, Spam and Delete have been replaced by icons which, I think, are less intuitive at a glance.

It’s like Microsoft Word all over again as these ‘new’ web companies blindly tread the well-worn path to bloat.

The first word processor that I used professionally was WordStar which used’ dot commands’ for formatting, like .lm to set the left margin. Then Word came along and it was a revelation. It truly was the best word processor I’d ever seen and it worked like a dream. For a while. But with each new release came a bunch of features that I didn’t know I was supposed to want and never used.

Eventually, Word did everything you could possibly want a word processor to do, but they still felt driven to keep on adding features, no matter how useless or poorly implemented. You could write your webpages in Word! They’d be terrible and it would be a horrible process, but you could run a website using a word processor. As these new bits of functionality came along, so the useful bits of Word, the bits you really wanted to work perfectly, started to get buried under layers of menus. The software became bloated, crashed a lot, and hogged your computer’s resources. Now I only open Word when I have to.

The conclusion is, however, inescapable: The lovely, sleek, Web 2.0 that we all knew and loved has turned into Word. If this is what Web 3.0 looks like, I think I’ll go hide out in Usenet until it’s all over.


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