Since I’ve made a big deal lately about why editors and newsrooms need to use Twitter, maybe this is a good time to criticize Twitter. It might bolster my position that I don’t see Twitter use as a “rule for entry” for any journalism priesthood.
Twitter can be annoying as hell. But so is dealing with sources trying to spin you. Good journalists deal with the necessary annoyances. My frustration with Twitter today deals with embed codes, and if you share my complaint, I will offer a partial solution (if you scroll down or stick with me).
As important as I think Twitter is to journalism today, I am repeatedly disappointed with its service to users and the quality of its products. My most-read post ever criticized Twitter’s ceiling of 2,000 accounts you can follow, unless almost as many accounts follow you. Every month thousands of Twitter users find that post by Googling in search of a solution for this frustrating limit (the post got 119 hits yesterday). But Twitter refuses to change the limit or provide an easy way for people who hit the limit to prove their legitimacy and keep following more accounts. Other posts expressing disappointment in other aspects of Twitter and the company’s performance are listed at the end of this post.
Today’s complaint is about features of Twitter embeds that don’t work. When I attended Twitter’s reception/spiel at their San Francisco headquarters during the 2012 Online News Association, Twitter had recently changed rules for use of its API and was encouraging embedding when using tweets in all digital media. Twitter’s Erica Anderson put it this way:
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) September 21, 2012
In yesterday’s second post about Dean Baquet’s response to my criticism last week, I embedded 25 tweets, following Anderson’s admonition that a tweet should be a tweet. The embeds allow you to click links, reply, favorite, retweet or click directly to the tweet. They are the best way to use tweets in digital content, and I’d like to use them that way. But they also carried too much clutter into my post. Too many tweets in yesterday’s post carried in the “parent tweet” that someone was replying to. If I had already used the parent tweet, it was redundant. If the parent tweet added confusing context, I wished it wasn’t there. And the tweets with links pulled in the headline, art and opening lines of the link, what Twitter calls a “card.” In some cases, the parent tweet or the card would be content you’d want. But seven of the tweets I embedded yesterday pulled in the same card, previewing Dean Baquet’s guest post on my blog, like the one below:
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) October 7, 2014
One preview might be nice, but who wants seven previews of the same link in one post? I sure didn’t. Wouldn’t it be nice if Twitter offered a way to embed the tweet without pulling in the card (or the parent tweet) if you didn’t want it?
Well, Twitter does offer a way to do that. It just doesn’t deliver.
Look at the “include media” option in the upper left corner under the embed code (in the illustration to the right). Looks like it offers an easy solution, right?
So all I need to do is uncheck that “include media” option and I’ll pull in Mathew’s code without the redundant card, right?
Well, that’s what I figured. That’s what someone (can’t remember who) told me on Twitter a while back when I complained about all the redundant cards. It seemed like the perfect Twitter crowdsourcing experience: Ask for help (or complain about a problem) and the tweeps jump in with solutions.
When I ask for the embed code for a tweet that’s replying to another tweet, it makes a similar offer, giving you an opportunity to uncheck that you want to include the parent tweet (below). But the result is the same. Parent tweet remains, whether I have it checked or not.
Why would you offer an option that you can’t deliver?
Both with the cards and with the parent tweet, I tried several times in yesterday’s post, but the results were always the same: All the unwanted clutter remained in the blog post.
I complained about the duplication on Twitter and Mathew Ingram emailed me with a fix for the parent-tweet problem: Instead of the embed code, you paste this into the html version of your post:
For instance, the URL of the tweet above is: https://twitter.com/sdkstl/status/519511011590565889 so you take the number part of the URL and paste it into the code below (I’ve eliminated the opening bracket, or it would show you the tweet; you need to put it in your post with the bracket): tweet 519511011590565889 hide_thread=’true’]
So you get this tweet:
Staci D Kramer (@sdkstl) October 07, 2014
Instead of this tweet:
So I revised yesterday’s post to show just a few parent tweets that I wanted to include.
Mathew made a suggestion for getting rid of the cards and that didn’t work. He shared Twitter’s developer tips for embeds with me, and I tried the suggestion there and it didn’t work either. I don’t rule out that I didn’t try either approach correctly. But why should customizing the display of tweets take so much work. Twitter obviously knows users want to customize how we display tweets. My question is: Why offer the option of excluding the media or the parent tweets if you can’t deliver?
So here’s what I’m going to do the next time I want to show some tweets that include cards in a post: I’m going to use screen shots as photos, so they won’t have any of the characteristics of a tweet. Or I’ll just quote the tweet in the text of my post.
I’m revising Anderson’s statement: The tweet is only a tweet if it is a tweet unless Twitter can’t deliver the tweet you want.
I’ll invite response from Anderson and other Twitter staffers I know and update with their response if I receive any (Twitter hasn’t been great about responding, another complaint I’ve made before).
Update: More complaints about the Twitter embed code (in tweets, of course). I’ll use Mathew’s hack to get around posting repetitive parent tweets:
Jen Connic (@jenconnic) October 08, 2014
Jen Connic (@jenconnic) October 08, 2014