The blue lines inundating your Twitter timeline are there to make your life easier.
Seriously. At least that’s what Twitter says. But judging by feedback all over social media, the company’s blue line experiment has many of us seeing red.
Twitter, in a blog post unveiling the feature, said its real-time public conversations haven’t always been easy to follow. The blue lines are Twitter’s attempt to show conversations as they are happening. Tweets that are part of a conversation are connected by a blue line. Of course, that could lead to tweets appearing out of chronological order.
Looking at this through Twitter’s eyes, it’s easy to see why it thinks this will be helpful. Not everyone is a Twitter expert, and not everyone is a pro at keeping track of how a conversation starts and how to initiate one. But the lines are attracting the attention of long-time Twitter users who don’t think this was a problem that needed fixing.
But it was Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who said in 2011 that “Twitter should be usable by those who know the shortcuts and those who don’t.” I’ve done some informal surveys on my Twitter feed and Facebook profile asking if people think Twitter is intuitive and the overall response was no.
Blue lines were first spotted earlier this summer, clearly in test mode. And while they’re just one tool in a toolbox full of social media, there are other simple ways to keep track of a conversation:
n Use a client such as Tweetdeck and add columns: If a conversation contains a hashtag, you can set up a column to alert you whenever someone uses that hashtag. Now while that’s useful, not everyone uses them or sometimes they are dropped. The blue line idea solves that problem because even if the conversation doesn’t seem connected, it still is. And because Twitter owns Tweetdeck, it’s possible we’ll see these changes come there in the future.
n Consider a third-party Twitter app. For now, these blue line changes apply at twitter.com and on the company’s official iPhone and Android apps. There are several apps that let you view an entire conversation with the push of a button, all without lines.
Of course, not everyone likes change. While Twitter has canned unpopular changes in the past, this might just be a matter of getting used to something new. But Twitter needs to walk a fine line.
As other social platforms vie for a chance to be part of the real-time conversation — Facebook and Google Plus have both recently implemented hashtags for this very purpose — it can’t afford to alienate new and long-time users.
On that note, Twitter’s design team has clearly seen the backlash and is asking for user opinions on the function and design. Mike Kruzeniski, the design lead at Twitter, tweeted last week: “@mkruz: The Blue Line! After playing with it for a day, what do you guys think?”
Personally, I like it. Anything Twitter can do to make the platform more accessible and enjoyable for everyone is a step in the right direction. If you don’t like it or have a suggestion, tweet Kruzeniski your thoughts. It can’t hurt. I don’t expect blue lines to be disappearing any time soon, but at least they may be a little more tolerable if you have your say.