Feature Ideas for Twitter

April 8th, 2009 § 2 comments

It’s late and before I go to sleep I wanted to write a post about a few features I’d consider implementing if I were working at Twitter. Often Product Managers are unwilling to share ideas  because we don’t want anyone to know our ideas actually suck and we’re selfish bastards. In order to prove to the world that I’m not a chicken or selfish here’s two freebies and some philosophy.

Feature #1 – Open the API to allow user account creation. My basic understanding of Twitter is that a majority of it’s traffic comes through it’s API as opposed to via browsing of the site. Making account creation available through the API would leverage the existing app developer ecosystem and benefit both Twitter and the app developers. App developers would benefit because they would no longer have to rely on users already having a Twitter account to use their apps, and it would obviously benefit Twitter with increased evangelism and measurable member conversion from development partners. It’s a win win. The risk is that scumbag developers would abuse the API by creating crap accounts. To avoid this, I suggest either implementing a pain in the ass real person authentication system like a custom captcha or simply only making the calls available to whitelisted developers.

Feature #2 – Suggest people and or tags to follow. Basically use user location as entered during registration and an additonal interests question to recommend people to follow. One of the hardest things about using Twitter is getting started. It’s analagous to attending a party in real life and not knowing anyone. You don’t know who to talk to or what to say, you’re uncomfortable, and you need a couple drinks to loosen up. The truth of the matter is that almost everyone, especially the major Twitter players would love another follower, especially one that has stated interest in something they talk about. I would seriously consider leveraging Twitter Search and trending along with a couple minor changes to profile questions to make immediate and ongoing recommendations about people to follow. It’s worked with Facebook and Linkedin, and they have a much much bigger problem linking people together that Twitter. The combination of asychronous follow and the fact that Twitter isn’t about people’s existing relationships (it’s a medium to create new ones) puts Twitter in a perfect position to make recommendations. How can I say this simply? Users have zero expectation for a good recommendation, so the feature can only win.

That reminds me of another idea I had about where Twitter can actually attain the Silicon Valley Holy Grail and be the “next Google” (assuming a legit revenue model which Google had from early on). It’s in connecting people who don’t know each other via their conversations. Google doesn’t connect people and I dare to say they will never connect people well no matter how many new experimental apps they launch. They won’t do it because, despite being unbelievably talented and amazing in so many different ways, Google is not very good at dealing with people – privacy issues come to mind. Now you say – “What about Facebook 200M members can’t be wrong?” To that I say – the major problem with existing social networks is that the network effect that makes them so powerful leans heavily on the hopes that people know each other and are willing to link up. Again Twitter doesn’t really have that problem. Once, a long time ago, I wrote something like “I want to build the social network for people who don’t have any friends, and a search engine for people who don’t know what they’re looking for.” I think Twitter can be the network for people w/ no friends… yet.

Thanks for reading.

  • http://www.andersramsay.com Anders Ramsay

    Hey Josh – I like Feature idea #2 – and maybe there isn't even really a need to answer an interest question, and to instead just do a search based on keywords from people's profile description, which would also encourage users to fill out their profile.

    I also think your new-at-a-party analogy is spot on, particularly that “you don’t know who to talk to or what to say, you’re uncomfortable, and you need a couple drinks to loosen up.” See, that's what Twitter really should do – overnight a couple shots of Scotch to everyone who signs up.

  • http://www.andersramsay.com Anders Ramsay

    Hey Josh – I like Feature idea #2 – and maybe there isn't even really a need to answer an interest question, and to instead just do a search based on keywords from people's profile description, which would also encourage users to fill out their profile.

    I also think your new-at-a-party analogy is spot on, particularly that “you don’t know who to talk to or what to say, you’re uncomfortable, and you need a couple drinks to loosen up.” See, that's what Twitter really should do – overnight a couple shots of Scotch to everyone who signs up.

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