Twitter, You’re DMing It Wrong

Ever since Twitter for iPhone was recently updated to become a universal app, sporting a shiny new iPad version along its side, one change has caused me a rather incomprehensible amount of frustration, incomprehensible in that I cannot figure out why this change was made. What I’m talking about is the handling of Direct Messages (DMs).

Before, in all of Twitter for iPhone, Tweetie on the Mac (the unofficial Mac desktop companion app to TweetieTwitter for iPhone) and Twitter.com on the Web, Direct Messages employed a simple ordering system: latest DMs were listed at the top, and—in the apps—the DM conversation with the latest message in it was also listed at the top. This was in line perfectly with everything else around Twitter: the stream itself shows the latest tweets at the top, Search shows the latest tweets at the top, and every Twitter client I’ve ever personally used shows the latest tweets and the latest DMs at the top, too.

So why the change? Who knows, really. There’s nothing on the blog about it, so people have come to speculate that it is to simulate the Messages (SMS) app by Apple itself, which shows the latest messages at the bottom instead of at the top. Since Twitter DMs are very similar to SMS and MMS, it stands to reason this may have caused the Twitter team to make this change.

But here’s the rub: there’s a very good reason why the Messages app shows latest messages at the bottom, and that reason does not apply in any way to Twitter for iPhone’s DM experience, nor to Twitter DMs themselves in some inherent way.

Let’s look at the experience with an SMS conversation in Messages: you start out with an empty screen, and as more things are said, the conversation builds from the top down with new items being added to the bottom of the stack:

This is not an arbitrary decision that Apple have made. The very obvious reason for this is when you start typing a new message. As you start typing, the keyboard slides into view from the bottom, pushing the conversation upwards but, because the order is newest-at-the-bottom, you see the latest thing that was said closest to the new thing you are writing. This helps you in composing your new message, but it goes further than that: when you send your message, your composition becomes a new chat balloon that floats itself to the bottom of the conversation, pushing it up a little again. This is both intuitive and natural, producing the least amount of movement on the screen while yielding the maximum results:

Now compare that to Twitter DMs:

There is no conversation. You don’t get to see what was said, and the new message you are composing is aligned at the top of the screen—after which it magically moves to the bottom, with the new Twitter for iPhone update. So one moment, you’re composing your message at the top, and once you send it, that message shows up at the bottom, opposite to your expectations, opposite to how it has worked for the past couple of years, and opposite to how it works in Twitter for iPad and on Twitter.com itself.

The experience therefore feels jarring, much like how, I suspect, the newest-at-the-top ordering would feel jarring if employed in the Messages app.

I’m reminded of something Steve Jobs or Jony Ive once said in an interview: a lot of people copy Apple, but for the wrong reasons. They just copy how it looks or works, but they never did the research and experimenting to understand why it works the way it works. As a result, they have a product that isn’t thought through as well, because they can’t explain the design choices they’ve made.

That’s what Twitter for iPhone’s DMs feel like to me now: copied from Apple, without understanding why.

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