‘New’ Twitter for Desktop: Pros, Cons, Solutions & Why Twitter Is Forcing It Upon Us

Twitter original desktop Dark Mode
Above: Wave a tearful goodbye to the old, server-based Twitter desktop site.

It’s been available on desktop for many moons in the form of Twitter Lite, but now, the so-called ‘new’ Twitter interface is rapidly being forced upon desktop users as the only fully-featured environment. It’s not just a visual redesign. It’s a completely different way of delivering content. And whether you like the ‘new’ Twitter or not, the chances of the old desktop site surviving in any form whatsoever are basically nil.

Why? Well, it wasn’t really that Twitter wanted a new desktop site. It was that they wanted rid of the old one…

WHY DID TWITTER DO THIS?

The fact that ‘new’ Twitter is as old as the hills in the mobile world actually gives us a hint as to what the Californian data-behemoth is really trying to achieve with its current roll-out. Twitter Lite launched in April 2017 as a mobile-influenced solution for data-restricted web users. Or, if you’re a cynic, as the start of preparations for the full elimination of the 2014 Twitter desktop site.

The ‘new’ environment currently rolling out to all desktop users is a seamless descendant of that 2017 release. So why force what’s basically a mobile site upon desktop users? One word: money. It’s cheaper and more reliable to maintain and update one interface that adapts to any device, than it is to maintain and update two or three interfaces that work independently and on different bases. Especially when the single interface is an app, built on the back of open source projects.

Twitter Lite was designed to run directly off the Twitter API as a JavaScript routine. So ‘new’ Twitter is essentially running itself in the style of a third party app, with a lot of help from the open source community. Early in spring ’17, Twitter itself said the new system was…

“An order of magnitude less expensive to run than our server-rendered desktop website.”

No further questions, m’lud. The priority was almost inevitably “make it cheaper”, rather than “make it better”. But this is not necessarily to say they didn’t have a valiant stab at making it better at the same time.

Okay, so we can see how deprecating the old desktop site benefits Twitter. But is this ‘new’ app thingy quite so beneficial to the user?

JAVASCRIPT HELL

If you’re accessing ‘new’ Twitter okay, you can skip this JavaScript Hell section and head straight down to Annoyances. But if you’re having problems accessing ‘new’ Twitter, this section is where you may find your solution…

Twitter does still provide a Legacy Mobile (Mobile Web M2) environment for JavaScript-phobics and people whose equipment/software is incompatible with modern JavaScript protocols. But Legacy Mobile has some essentials missing – tweet media and profile pic/header upload facilities for example – so it can’t really be considered a serious alternative to ‘new’ Twitter.

And worse, your incompatible browser may not even take you to Legacy Mobile automatically. If it doesn’t, you could end up getting locked into this delightful little jail…

Sorry! We did something wrong”, or similar, accompanied by a Refresh button that does nothing but keep looping back to the same display. If this happens, there’s no way you can even use your account on that browser as it stands, without forcing Twitter into Legacy Mobile mode.

To get yourself from the white screen of death into Legacy Mobile, you’ll need to disable JavaScript in your browser. Twitter will then automatically offer Legacy Mobile or take you straight into it.

Since most browsers no longer have an option to disable JavaScript in their user settings, the best solution is to install a JavaScript toggle extension from your browser’s add-on store. Then you can switch JavaScript on or off with a simple button on the browser’s top-bar.

I could be glib here and advise everyone to avoid the eternal Refresh screen by updating their browsers to the latest version and keeping the configuration settings at their default. But I’d rather leave the glib suggestions to “copywriters” who spend their “working” lives rewording press releases. They need glib because they don’t have anything else. I, on the other hand, understand that not everyone has equipment or an operating system that accepts new browsers. And “Sorry! We did something wrong.”, on a recurring loop, does not help those people.

So first, Twitter needs to sort out its unprofessional error-handling process. And second, if you need to publish media and you’re getting the dreaded white screen, you should still be able to tweet with TweetDeck for now. It’s Twitter’s own site, so if you’re logged in on Twitter you won’t need to log in separately.

ANNOYANCES

I’ve always found JavaScript apps excruciatingly annoying. Even if everything actually works, they’re slow. The site owners will always claim they’re fast, as Twitter does with its ‘new’ desktop environment. But what they mean by “it’s fast” is: “it’s fast considering the massive amount of processing it has to do to fire up literally hundreds of scripts”.

Modern JavaScript apps don’t just display a page. They set up a live, two-way connection for instant interactivity, user monitoring and zero-refresh page update – which ironically makes loading far less instant than if you just clicked buttons and refreshed to raw HTML. This is why Legacy Mobile loads each page instantly, whereas ‘new’ Twitter pages take a number of seconds to fully render. On the plus side, the ‘new’ Twitter desktop app can perform tricks like altering the engagement counts on a tweet almost in real time, as you watch. But let’s face facts: these JavaScript apps are only “fast” as compared with “even bloody slower”.

So my number one annoyance is…

JAVASCRIPT LOAD TIMER RINGS & STAGGERED COMPONENT LOAD. Don’t even get me started. These ubiquitous dances of delay literally make me want to break the computer.

Here are some other pet annoyances…

LAYOUT. Some people have criticised the layout of ‘new’ Twitter on desktop. It takes some getting used to, because everything’s been moved and we’ve had the old desktop for over five years now. But for me there are bigger annoyances…

OH GOD, HAS THAT NOT BEEN BINNED YET? ‘New’ Twitter publicises the device or app type you use to post each tweet.

Twitter has done this on various builds over the years, although not on the previous desktop site. Whilst the info does educate readers about the different posting options available, it’s also a privacy violation. It’s none of anyone else’s business whether you’re using an iPhone, an Android device, a web device or whatever else. If Twitter wants to farm that info, fair enough, but it does not need to be made public by force. It’s even sparked trolling campaigns when promoters of Android systems have posted using an iPhone, or vice versa. The public haven’t provided privacy policies, so they should not be receiving private information from anyone other than the individual.

QUOTE TWEET HELL. I wrote previously about how some people use “quote tweets” to steal the engagement on media creators’ work. ‘New’ Twitter chucks another log on that fire, displaying the original tweet media at consumable size within the “quote tweet”. This means almost everyone seeing and wanting to approve a photo in a “quote tweet” will now Like the “quote tweet” rather than clicking through to the original tweet and Liking that. So if you post a great photo, and someone who shares your audience adds a pointless comment when they RT it, they WILL get a cut of your Likes.

Even before completion of the roll-out, engagement was dramatically up on “quote RTs” of a photo. That doesn’t just mean that the insidious, parasitic scumbags adding needless comments to photo RTs will do better out of it – it also means the original media posters lose engagement. If someone’s already Liked the “quote tweet”, they ain’t gonna Like your original as well. One saving grace is that if you block the offender, your media will immediately disappear from their “quote tweet”. It’s then quite satisfying to log out and watch their flood of incoming Likes suddenly halt as the value in “their” tweet instantly evaporates. You may even see them delete the useless husk of empty air that remains.

DM DELETE IS HIDDEN. To delete DMs you have to click on both the conversation AND the individual message to see a Delete link. I had to use a search engine to find out how to do it, and before I discovered the secret it was actually easier to report the message as spam and get rid of it that way. Especially on a substantial screen, delete options don’t need to be masterpieces of minimalistic design. They need to be visible.

POSITIVES

Okay, so those are the main negatives. What about the positives?

SIMPLIFICATION OF TIMELINE ORDERING. You can select the ordering of your homepage timeline from the top of the timeline itself, rather than messing about in the settings. It’s the same with search preferences on your search timelines. Definitely an improvement. And in connection with this, Twitter has now also scrapped the Quality Filter. One less needless decision to make.

EASILY VARIABLE TEXT SIZE. It’s great that Twitter have made a major accessibility option part of the main display prefs.

OPTION FOR LOW DATA CONSUMPTION. Even if you don’t have a data cap with excess charge, or pay for download data per gigabyte, this feature – tucked away in the settings – is a good way to streamline scrolling and keep your browser cache compact. It works by prohibiting full images and media from loading, and replacing them with an extremely low-res placeholder. You then click a tab for images you want to properly load. Unfortunately (but as one would expect), it doesn’t apply to ads. Ad media always displays.

NATIVE ACCOUNT SWITCHING. You can add all your accounts to a single login (provided you have no more than five). It’s then easy to toggle between them. However, if you’re prone to bad behaviour or, let’s say, behaviour Twitter doesn’t like, you should be wary about doing this. If you’ve 100% acknowledged that all your accounts belong to the same person, it’s going to be very easy for Twitter to wipe you off the face of the Earth in the event that you’re “naughty”. If you’re just a content publisher and you don’t get on the wrong side of people, you’ll probably love having all your accounts on one login, but if so, you’ve probably been using TweetDeck anyway.

RESPONSIVE DESIGN. You can prevent the annoying sidebar widgets (and their JavaScript drag) from loading, by simply narrowing your browser window down to mobile size. This unquestionably speeds up page loads.

SINGLE-COLUMN DISPLAY FOR FOLLOWING/ERS LISTS. I didn’t like the old desktop’s multi-column display for follow lists. I found the list harder to eye for unfollowers. If you’re not using a separate app to catch and unfollow the sneakies, and you only have a relatively small friend list to check, it’s easier to spot those missing “Follows you” badges when scrolling down a single column, I find.

BOOKMARKS TAB. Liking is a bookmarking process, but it approves and rewards the tweet author. A separate bookmarking system and reader tab means you can save tweets you don’t want to garnish with your personal seal of approval. You have to wonder whether Twitter created this feature with one eye on scrapping the Like button.

IN CONCLUSION

The balance of this post seems to err towards the negative when I read down as far as this point. So I want to cite an anecdote to re-align the perspective a little…

Word spread on Twitter of a way to restore the old desktop site, even after a forcible switch to the ‘new’ app. I’m not going to bother referencing the method. You’ll currently find it if you search #NewTwitter on Twitter anyway, but the reality is it will only be a temp possibility for the duration of the switch-over period. Once everything’s switched over, Twitter is bound to fully deprecate the old site, because that was the entire purpose of developing the new one.

I did use the hack to re-establish old Twitter, but one of the first things that came into my head after doing it was:

“Now how do I get the new version back?”

So while I’ve had plenty of negative stuff to say about the app-based Twitter for desktop, when push came to shove I didn’t want to lose access to it. That has not been the case with updates on most other big platforms, so Twitter should be commended for at least making something that isn’t categorically worse than the previous version.

In the end, none of these revisions are really about design. They’re about installing a more profitable system – usually with cost-savings and better data-gathering capability. They’re pitched as improved user experiences because that sounds a lot better than “here’s a cheaper version that can spy on you better”. But had Twitter not given the game away back in 2017, they could probably have persuaded a lot of us that the ‘new’ Twitter was a selfless act of tweep-appreciation. It really is that… unterrible. Is that a word?…