Twitter, Mobile Devices, and User Retention

As I've argued on this blog and elsewhere, the mobile component of Twitter is essential to a rich user experience. Having SMS updates enabled or using a mobile client such as Tweetie or Twitterific is a key factor in getting the most out of Twitter as a robust communications platform and as a framework for ambient research. While I've maintained this position over the last few months, I recently had the misfortune/opportunity to experience Twitter sans mobility, and I didn't like it much.

As you may know, one of my primary areas of research is the study of writing and rhetorics on ubiquitous and mobile small-screen devices. In fact, my impending move to Ball State University includes support for a new, more robust mobile device and data plan, as well as affiliation with the Center for Media Design, where I hope to procure funding and develop empirical studies of mobile media consumption and ambient communication.

The long and the short of the story is that my phone broke last week. More specifically, my phone's screen functioned intermittently and not very well, mostly not at all (though banging it on my desk seemed to help at times). There was no disruption is service or functionality--messages and calls still came through just fine--but I couldn't read those messages or determine who might be calling. As you might imagine, this presented some problems. I'm the type of person who will go on using something until it just won't work anymore (I still have--and use--a Palm Vx, for Pete's sake!), but this was something different.

My first order of business was to remove device updates from Twitter. That "solved" some of the problem, but I was still faced with incoming calls that I couldn't see, and additional text messages from others that I couldn't read. Moreover, my engagement with Twitter was rather poor. I figured it would be easier to elaborate on some of this via video:

So, certainly my experience here is purely anecdotal, but I am left wondering how mobile adoption might enrich one's experience of using Twitter, how it might make it easier for a new user to engage in conversation and to feel as though they are part of a larger community, and how their reading and writing practices travel with them. My unintended experiment in reverse-engineering the mobile UX of Twitter gave me a very different, rather underwhelming perspective on the service. In explaining Twitter going forward, I know that I'll be emphasizing mobile usage even more.


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