The Twitter!

Grumpy-old-man rant (money quote: “Damned kids! Stay off my lawn!”) aside, I finally signed up for The Twitter a few weeks ago. I can think of no good reason why you should follow me.

Don’t know what The Twitter is, or don’t know why all these damned fools won’t shut up about it? Internationally Beloved Technology Pundit Andy Ihnatko gives a gentle introduction to The Twitter in Apple Phone Show #53.

Twitter Account Sign-up: Poor UI Design Masquerading as Great UI Design

The older I get, the more resistant to change I get. “Because it’s new!” just doesn’t seem like a valid reason to spend time on things like it used to. Maybe it’s not age; maybe it’s just the ongoing lack of free time I suffer. Either way, I’m not nearly the early adopter I once was.

For example, I’ve never used Twitter. It has never struck me as a useful method of communication, and I don’t know anyone (personally) who uses it. It has remained on my radar; many of the bloggers I follow use it and often refer to it, and to “tweets” (twitter messages, for the uninitiated) they have received. It also comes up on a regular basis in the podcasts I listen to. Tonight, I decided to give it a try, if only to follow a few of the folks whose other works I read and listen to on a daily basis.

The Twitter sign up page is elegantly simple- three inputs, the obligatory CAPTCHA, yes-please-email-me checkbox (off by default!) and the submit button, which is labeled as an acceptance of the Terms of Service (omitting the need for a separate checkbox). Each input- username, password, email address- is clearly labeled, with brief help text alongside. What impressed me was the username text box. Below the text box appears the message “No spaces please.” As you begin to type your desired user name, the message is updated to read “That name has been taken. Please choose another.” or “Available!” As I typed, I was impressed – the messages took the guesswork out of choosing a username- a process which is often a pain on any site that requires a domain-specific unique ID. Especially annoying are those sites that clear the password field, or even the whole form, when they tell you that the username you want is already taken.

But all was not as it seemed. My old standbys “jason” and “jclark” both being taken, I tried “jclark.org”. “Available!” declaimed the help text. “Excellent!” I replied. Add a password, supply an email address, squint through a CAPTCHA and… Fail? The page refreshed. The password and email inputs were cleared. The CAPTCHA images were updated, and the CAPTCHA input cleared. The username was still filled in, but the help text now said “Username can only contain letters, numbers and ‘_'”. Wow, that would have been useful knowledge BEFORE I submitted the form. You know, back when you told me my choice was “Available!” in soothing green text. And why was the entire form cleared, forcing me to start over? Well, the entire form *except the field that was invalid*. That field was thoughtfully left populated.

In the space of 2 minutes, my very first interaction with Twitter went from very positive (simple form, sensible defaults, instant feedback) to very negative (misleading instant feedback, clearing of valid data). I don’t know if this will stop me from ever signing up for Twitter. It did stop me from signing up for it tonight.