t.co

Finally, the launch of the Mac App Store on January 6 also brought an interesting bit of news: after a long interval that was starting to feel like forever, Tweetie 2 for Mac was out, ready to be downloaded (a free app) from the Store itself. Exclusively from the Store. Good — so let’s download and install Mac OS X 10.6.6, which includes the App Store application, and let’s get Tweetie 2 (actually the app is simply called Twitter for Mac now, since Twitter acquired Atebits a while ago) and let’s keep on tweeting in that shiny new interface.

I have read a few reactions to the new Twitter for Mac’s interface and application in general, and people — at least that small sample represented by those I follow on Twitter — seem to have mixed feelings about it. A few are enthusiastic, another few have stuck with it despite some little things they don’t like; others have tried it for some days and returned to Tweetie or the Twitter client they were using before, because they were disappointed by the new application, or bewildered by changes in the interface and user interaction, or unwilling to adjust to Twitter for Mac.

Most complaints seem to be interface-related. Not mine. In fact, I really haven’t got any problem with Twitter for Mac’s interface. I don’t mind its non-standard GUI elements, I don’t mind its animations or their inconsistencies. But I haven’t switched to it yet for basically two details: the first is a ‘feature’, the second is the lack of a feature.

I’ll start with the latter. On a general note, I’m rather surprised by the lack of customisation options in Twitter for Mac. Not that Tweetie 1.2.8 preferences are chock-full of controls and settings, but at least I can change the font size, the Retweet syntax, and decide which URL shortening service I want to use to shorten any long link I might include in a tweet, and the way people’s names are displayed in the timeline (by Full Name or Twitter username). In the ‘new and improved’ Twitter for Mac these things are all missing. Particularly missing, for me, is the ability to switch to Full Name display. I want to see the names of the people I follow (or of those who follow me and send replies every now and then), not their usernames. It’s a small niggle, but enough to irk me. I prefer to read “Jason Scott” rather than “textfiles”, or “Dave Lawrence” instead of “davelawrence8”, for instance. The feature was already there in Tweetie, why drop it? Also, why force people to stick with a specific font and font size? Helvetica is a classic, but maybe for some people Lucida Grande (Mac OS X’s system font) is more readable. One should at least be given the ability to make it a little bigger. I hope that in future updates these features will be reinstated, instead of just playing at “Change The App’s Icon”. 

The second, and most important thing that has kept me from switching to Twitter for Mac is related to URL shortening. Twitter for Mac has gone all corporate and only uses the Twitter-sanctioned t.co service. If you go to t.co’s home page, you’ll read the following message:

Twitter uses the t.co domain as part of a service to protect users from harmful activity, to provide value for the developer ecosystem, and as a quality signal for surfacing relevant, interesting Tweets.

You can click the Learn more button and you’ll be taken to a Support page further explaining how the service works, etc. 

The fact is: if you use Twitter for Mac, every URL you insert in your tweets will be automatically shortened using t.co. It doesn’t matter whether your original URL was long or short to begin with; it doesn’t matter if it was an already shortened URL (perhaps copied and pasted from other well-known URL shortening services like tinyurl, bit.ly, is.gd); furthermore, it doesn’t matter if the original URL was already shortened by a recognisable company/entity using an alternate, short URL tailored for services like Twitter where every character counts (examples include amzn.com, flic.kr, nyti.ms and others). 

I find this behaviour quite annoying. I’d like to be able to recognise at a glance where a certain link comes from, or at least have a vague idea about what I can reasonably expect when someone I follow wants to share something. If I see URLs beginning with http://twitpic.com, or http://yfrog.com, I know they link to images, and since I’m still on Tweetie 1.2.8, I’ll be able to enjoy the added comfort of seeing them from within the client, without having the links passed to an external browser. Same goes for Instagram (http://instagr.am) and Flickr (http://flic.kr); in this case the link will open in a browser, but I’m expecting a photo anyway, because I recognise the source. In a way or another, such URLs, albeit shortened, give me a shred of information. t.co gives me nothing, apart from the notion that the link is ‘approved by Twitter’. From a practical, user-oriented standpoint, what t.co does is wrapping whatever URL into obscurity.

There’s more about t.co’s behaviour I dislike. If you use Twitter for Mac, as I said above, every link you put in a tweet will be given the t.co treatment, but if you access Twitter from the Web interface at twitter.com, you will see the original link. Every other Twitter client, instead, will display only the obscure t.co URL. If you’re using a Twitter client with the ability of displaying images inline, it won’t recognise images with twitpic or yfrog URLs inside t.co URLs, so it won’t display them. Another peculiar thing: if you use the Web interface and click on a URL that was posted from Twitter for Mac (and therefore subject to the ‘t.co treatment’), you will see the original URL, but when you hover the mouse on it, the browser will see the t.co URL instead (look at the URL in the browser’s status bar at the bottom), so that upon clicking the URL, the browser will first go to the t.co link, which will in turn redirect you to the original site. Absurd, redundant, and even a bit questionable if you ask me.

So, no, I’m not going to use Twitter for Mac for now. If they’re not willing to change the URL shortening behaviour, at least they should add a preference that lets me decide whether I want the URL shortened or not, instead of all this t.co ‘mass assimilation’. Yes, I’m acting on principle here. I just want more clarity and flexibility. Thankfully there are plenty of other solid Twitter clients, including the ‘old’ Tweetie (and I can’t wait to see the forthcoming Twitterrific 4 for Mac), but still, Twitter for Mac has been a bit of a disappointment for me, especially after the long wait.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!