The way Twitter mentions are generally used is as follows:

  1. A list of mentions is displayed.
  2. The user goes through all of their unread mentions. They might reply to some of them.

Let’s compare that to email. The way email is generally used is as follows:

  1. A list of emails is displayed.
  2. The user goes through all of their unread emails. They might reply to some of them.

Then they are faced with management. Do they want to delete the email? Archive it? Move it to another folder or label it? At this point, inaction is the worst path the user can take. Inaction will cause all their Inbox to fill up and overwhelm them. The user is punished for inaction.

You probably don’t want your user to feel like they are being punished.

Email and Twitter work in very similar ways. Why does one of them feel like a burden and the other a pleasure?

Management.

Email needs to be read and organized and archived and deleted. To dismiss a mention on Twitter, all one needs to do is scroll past it. The fundamental difference between the experiences is that it is neceassary to manage email. With Twitter one can just ignore and continue.

There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of: “Ignoring your problems won’t make them go away”. I think that as digital experience designers it is our responsiblity to prove that statement untrue. We need to find ways to abstract away from management, be it emails or disk space or the file system.

So how can we reduce the need for management? Let’s take another look at the comparison between email and Twitter.

With Twitter, you cannot delete mentions. You cannot move them to folders. You cannot label them. You cannot archive them. When you are done with a mention, you simply scroll past it.

This is one of the situations in which lack of choice is beneficial.

With Twitter mentions, management is impossible, and because of this, the user does not feel accountable. With modern technology, organisation is also irrelevant. Search can be fast and complex enough that information can be found within seconds, without the need for navigating a convoluted organisational hierarchy.

If I want to find a Twitter mention from a couple of days ago, I hit ⌘F, search for it, and it appears instantly. I never think to myself “I wish I could have stored this in a folder so I could find it more easily”, because that would never be easier.

I’m not saying that management is always bad and that it should always be replaced with search, because that isn’t true. My point is that a user should never feel like they have to manage information. They should never be punished for inaction. Lack of organisational features are a way to make a user feel like they are not responsible for management, and lack of responsibility leads to lack of frustration.