The Real Problem With Dick's Bar

Loren Brichter, the proprietor of the artist formerly known as Tweetie, has always has a knack for pushing the boundaries of user interface design on iOS. The first version of Tweetie was fairly tame in UI innovations, but was one of the better use cases for adhering to the standard widget set provided by iOS. Tweetie 2 introduced the pull-to-refresh mechanism that has been copied ad nauseam. Twitter for iPad was by far the most controversial of the interface experiments with people complaining about the stacked layers and hidden multitouch gestures.

In each of these cases, people complained at the outset because things were different, but it subsided rather quickly.1 The #dickbar has been completely different. We are now several weeks beyond its launch and still people are complaining and writing about why it sucks.

Jeff Rock:

If Twitter wants to run an ad at the top of the scrollview, Twiterrific-style, I’m all for it. It’s your platform. Monetize away. But the problem with the trend bar implementation is that I’m being subjected to what I find to be the poor taste of millions of mouth-breathing buffoons in my own timeline.

Marco Arment:

It’s a news ticker limited to one-word items, lacking any context, broadcasting mostly topics that I don’t understand, recognize, or care about. It’s nonsensical. At worst, it can offend. At best, it will confuse.

The problem with the Dickbar is not that it is showing one or two word trending phrases in Marco’s timeline.2 Its problem is that the content it provides has absolutely zero appeal to him.

Twitter’s trending topics started as a world-wide zeitgeist of what all Twitter users were tweeting about. A few years later Twitter added the concept of local trends for several larger cities so you could more narrowly see what was trending in your home town.3

No matter if you display trends globally, regionally or for the given block a user is tweeting from, it is not going to have an appeal to every user who sees them. I like to think I have a better grasp of pop culture, major sporting events and other mass appeal topics outside of technology, but rarely do I find what’s offered in trending topics to be enjoyable or useful. White People Stink? No. Dick Costolo’s monetization plans through promoted trends does in its current iteration.

If Twitter wants to improve the trending experience for everyone, it should change how they are calculated entirely. Rather than generating trends based on the location of a tweet, they should instead show trends related to what is happening in my timeline, who I am following and who my followers follow.

In my case, I follow dozens of Mac and iOS developers as well as a few mobile computing commentators. I’d expect the trends bar to show me tweets related to that. For instance, if there is an Apple or Google product announcement, there should be nothing but trends related to that event. If someone follows a variety of sports stars and celebrities, I would expect they see trends related to big games, Charlie Sheen’s latest exploits or Brett Favre’s dong.

Apple does something similar with its Genius recommendations. When you are listening to a song or browsing the iTunes Store, Apple shows a list of recommended songs that are related to the genre or artist. It works pretty well and makes it dangerously easy for me to buy more and more music.

Facebook’s News feed has a fire hose mode, but it also has a “Top News” view that shows you the updates that it believes you will enjoy most based on your previous Facebook experiences.

I have little doubt that Twitter could find the engineering resources to figure out how to implement a similar system where trends are specific to each user. If the company still wants to append a promoted trend or two that goes global to pay the bills, I wouldn’t mind. Any solution would be better than the current one where I am inundated with hashtag memes or the latest Jonas vs Bieber trend war.

No one objects to Twitter trying to find a way to make money. What they object to is how substantially it degrades the Twitter experience.

  1. I personally hated Twitter for iPad when it first was released because it felt so foreign, but now I can’t imagine using another client. That’s why it is so disappointing that Twitter is going to put a dickbar on it eventually.

  2. As a piece of user interface it is pretty neat how it works. Core Animation is awesome.

  3. Of course, Indianapolis is not on the list despite being one of the larger cities. In fact, I don’t think Twitter has added any new cities to the list since launch

About Justin

Justin Williams is the Crew Chief of Second Gear. He writes about consumer technology, running a bootstrapped software business, and more from Denver, Colorado.

Follow @justin on Twitter or get new articles via @carpeaqua.