Twitter just recommended I follow Nginx as being similar to a teacher of design thinking.—
Jeff Sussna (@jeffsussna) February 10, 2016
Consider this Tweet for a moment. I’ll be coming back to it at the end.
In my last post, I brought up Twitter’s rumored changes to the timeline feature as a poor example of customer awareness in connection with an attempt to innovate. The initial rumor set off a storm of protest that brought out CEO Jack Dorsey to deny (sort of) that the timeline will change. Today, the other shoe dropped, the timeline will change (sort of):
Twitter's timeline tweak is here, but don't panic: It's not huge, it's optional, and you might even like it. fastcompany.com/3056431/everyt…—
Harry McCracken (@harrymccracken) February 10, 2016
Essentially, it will be a re-implementation of the “While You Were Away” feature with an opt-out:
In the “coming weeks,” Twitter will turn on the feature for users by default, and put a notification in the timeline when it does, Haq says. But even then, you’ll be able to turn it off again.
Of course, Twitter’s expectation is that most people will like the timeline tweak—or at least not hate it—once they’re exposed to it. “We have the opt-out because we also prioritize user control,” Haq says. “But we do encourage people to give it a chance.”
So, what does this have to do with the Open/Closed Principle? The Wikipedia article for it contains a quote from Bertrand Meyer’s Object-Oriented Software Construction (emphasis is mine):
A class is closed, since it may be compiled, stored in a library, baselined, and used by client classes. But it is also open, since any new class may use it as parent, adding new features. When a descendant class is defined, there is no need to change the original or to disturb its clients.
Just as change to the code of class may disturb its clients, change to user experience of a product may disturb the clientele. Sometimes extension won’t work and change must take place. As it turns out, the timeline has been extended with optional behavior rather than changed unconditionally as was rumored.
- Twitter isn’t the only social media application out there with a timeline for updates. Perhaps that chronological timeline (among other features) provides some value to the user base?
- Assuming that value and the risk of upsetting the user base if that value was taken away, wouldn’t it have been wise to communicate in advance? Wouldn’t it have been even wiser to communicate when the rumor hit?
Innovation will involve change, but not all change is necessarily innovative. Understanding customer wants and needs is a good first step to identifying risky changes to user experience (whether real or just perceived). I’d argue this is even more pronounced when you consider that Twitter’s user base is really its product. Twitter’s customers are advertisers and data consumers who want and need an engaged, growing user base to view promoted Tweets and generate usage data.
Returning to the Tweet at the beginning of this post. Considering the accuracy of that recommendation, would it be reasonable to think turning over your timeline to their algorithms might degrade your user experience?