I mentioned recently, buried in a post about UI changes, that Twitter’s latest earnings report included this bombshell:
We are going to fix the broken windows and confusing parts, like the .@name syntax and @reply rules, that we know inhibit usage and drive people away
There’s an interesting problem here. UI is hard. You can’t just slap a button on the screen for every feature that could conceivably be used at any given time. Some features are only of interest to so-called “power users”, so they’re left subtle, spread by word-of-mouth. Some features you try to make invisible and heuristic. Some features are added just to solve one influential user’s problem. Some features are, ah, accidental.
A sufficiently mature, popular, and interesting product thus tends to accumulate a small pile of hidden features, sometimes not documented or even officially acknowledged. I’d say this is actually a good thing! Using something for a while should absolutely reward you with a new trick every so often — that below-the-surface knowledge makes you feel involved with the thing you’re using and makes it feel deeper overall.
The hard part is striking a balance. On one end of the spectrum you have tools like Notepad, where the only easter egg is that pressing F5 inserts the current time. On the other end you have tools like vim, which consist exclusively of easter eggs.
One of Twitter’s problems is that it’s tilted a little too far towards the vim end of the scale. It looks like a dead-simple service, but those humble 140 characters have been crammed full of features over the years, and the ways they interact aren’t always obvious. There are rules, and the rules generally make sense once you know them, but it’s also really easy to overlook them.
Here, then, is a list of all the non-obvious things about Twitter that I know. Consider it both a reference for people who aren’t up to their eyeballs in Twitter, and an example of how these hidden features can pile up. I’m also throwing in a couple notes on etiquette, because I think that’s strongly informed by the shape of the platform.