Twit nits: 12 top Twitter annoyances

What's missing, what's exasperating, what you can do about it -- and what Twitter should do about it

Ineffective support for short URLs

This sounds like a little nit, but if you embed a lot of links in your tweets this lack of attention to detail on Twitter's part quickly becomes a big deal. Twitter shortens URLs in a tweet after you publish it, rather than when you're composing the message. With only 140 characters to work with, users would like to have that short URL when composing the message, rather than after the fact.

Twit nit tweet: Twitter.com creates a short URL for you -- after a tweet is posted. Gee, thanks.

To get around the problem, users must switch over to a site like bit.ly or TinyURL.com to create a short URL, then return to Twitter and paste the result into the message.

It doesn't have to be this way. Some third-party Twitter clients, such as TweetDeck, shorten the URL automatically. With others, such as Seesmic Desktop, you paste a long URL in a separate space and hit Enter and get a shortened version that's pasted onto the end of your tweet. Twitter should do the same.

The fail whale: No endangered species

For regular Twitter users, a sighting of the service's infamous "fail whale" is an all-too-frequent occurrence. "The most annoying thing is the reliability of the [Twitter] service," says Vorvoreanu.

Twit nit tweet: More infamous than Moby Dick? Sightings of Twitter's fail whale continue unabated. Garr!

While Twitter is better than it was a year ago, Wallace says it's still not uncommon for her to get the fail message several times in a day. "On the most basic level -- the user experience -- the service is unreliable," she says.

In one sense that's understandable, given Twitter's meteoric rise. Twitter says that its user base grew 900 per cent between January 2008 and January 2009. Media metrics tracker Nielsen Online puts Twitter's year-over-year growth rate at an astounding 1928 per cent, with unique visitors per month surging from 1.03 million in June 2008 to 20.9 million in June 2009.

Group account tweets

That's a lot to handle. But the persistence of reliability problems over time still bothers users like Wallace. "I just don't understand why they don't migrate to a more stable network and address what seem to be issues of reliability and scale," she says.

Scalability isn't Twitter's only concern when it comes to uptime and reliability. As Twitter's popularity continues to skyrocket, it has become more of a target for hackers -- witness last month's crippling DDoS attack against the service. That makes it doubly important for the company to develop a robust and stable architecture.

Limited by API limits

Twitter's not responding. What's wrong? If you use third-party applications to access the service, it might just be that you've exceeded your API limits.

Say what?

Twit nit tweet: Request denied! API call limits continue to confound regular Twitter users.

"I'm sure a lot of Twitter users don't understand how they reached the API call limit, let alone what an API call is in the first place," Wallace says.

Third-party applications, or "clients," use the Twitter API to interact with the service, but Twitter limits such activity to a certain number of API calls (information requests) per hour. Refreshes of tweet, @reply and direct message feeds through an interface like TweetGrid or TweetDeck, for example, can quickly use up API calls, especially during conferences or other events where constant Twittering takes place. And when a user goes over the limit, it's not always clear what has happened.

Until recently, Twitter's API limited clients to 100 calls per hour. That limit caused Vorvoreanu, a TweetDeck user, to get locked out during an event where active Twittering was taking place. On July 1, Twitter reportedly increased the limit to 150 calls. But Wallace still hit the API limit one day early in July and was unable to add followers, even though she was under the follower limit. Twitter didn't indicate what was wrong. "I just thought there was something wrong with Twitter's functionality again," she says.

Chris Bennett of BLVD Status says he's OK with the current limit, but he can see why others want a higher limit -- or no limit at all. "I know of some people that change accounts after each limit to get more," he says. But he's not sure, given the current state of Twitter's infrastructure, that having no upper limit at all would be a good idea. "It could get pretty nasty, I would think," he says, of the potential for overloading Twitter's service.

There is one work-around for this problem: Check to see if your third-party applications allow you to decrease the frequency of API calls by, for example, doing refreshes less frequently. But that's a level of detail that most users would rather not have to deal with.

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