Twitter made a product decision today to “streamline” its Android app. Twitter wouldn’t know a great, monetizeable, joyful feature if it hit it in the face. And I’ve spent the last couple of years hitting Twitter in the face with this feature in what has turned out to be a vain effort to keep it from being pulled. I’m talking about Highlights, the best part of the Twitter experience on Android.
Since it was (basically) Android-only and buried in the side menu, I need to explain Highlights every time I talk about it. So here goes: it’s a side-swiping list of tweets and links, chosen by an algorithm, based on the best stuff from the people you follow. It’s a brief, quick list of popular tweets and links from the people you follow, that lets you catch up on what you missed.
In a world where most of my main Twitter timeline is usually awash in the Outrage Of The Moment, Twitter Highlights has been a rare fulfillment of the promise of social media: it presented delightful things that I care about from people that I care about, in a format that was quick and easy to digest.
Rather than build on it, Twitter went and turned it into yet another thing you’ll miss in your Notifications tab. (It is also available on iOS as a random notification.) And that’s just a shame, because this immersive, horizontal-swipe format could have been Twitter’s “Story” format, designed to compete with Instagram and Snapchat. It’s a lot like Twitter Moments, but built with an algorithm and with none of the convoluted UI required to build a Moment.
Twitter could have built on it, expanded on it, and (yes) put ads on it. Instead, Twitter just buried it. You know how Stories let you feel like you’ve caught up on what your friends are doing on Instagram or Snapchat? Highlights was that, but for Twitter.
All is not lost, however! Highlights still exist in the Twitter app, but there’s no longer a link to get to them in the sidebar. Samuel Maskell, a former senior engineer on the Android notifications team at Twitter, has taken it upon himself to create a tiny little Android “app” that restores a quick link to Twitter Highlights. You click the app on the home screen and it opens up the Twitter app directly into Highlights.
In an email, Maskell tells me that Highlighter is “literally 3 lines of code. The app just opens the same deep-link that the notification uses and then exits. Other than that, the only thing I have to say is that I'm sorry for the ugly icon. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
At some point, Twitter will probably kill this feature altogether, so that it can devote more engineering resources to ignoring the problem of making tweets editable. Until then, if you’re an Android user, I highly recommend sticking Highligher on your home screen somewhere, ugly icon and all.
Twitter Highlights respect your time. They let you catch up on Twitter without asking you to deal with the main feed’s latest whims and rants. If Twitter were any kind of smart, it would build up Highlights into a Story format that lives alongside your main feed instead of incessantly mucking around with the order of tweets on the home tab.
But, as we have seen time and time again over the past few years, Twitter is not any kind of smart.