Learning to think before I tweet.

An apology to 24 ways and Anna Powell‐Smith for having all the grace of a bull in a china shop on Twitter yesterday morning.

Yesterday, I read an article on 24 ways titled How to Make Your Site Look Half‐Way Decent in Half an Hour. It made my blood boil. And I tweeted the following in the heat of the moment:

But that apparently wasn’t enough. There must be something about the combination of Twitter and strong emotions that creates a laxative effect because I clearly had verbal diarrhoea as I quickly followed up my initial tweet with a quote from the article:

Although this tweet was a direct response to a quote in the article, it’s easy to see how it could be taken as a personal attack on the author. After all, when you’re responding to an article, you’re not just responding to the content of it (which was my intention) but also to the person who wrote it. (At this point, I hadn’t even checked who the author was.)

It is all too easy to forget that there are people at the other end of your tweet. This fact — that what we do affects people’s lives — is also what we often forget when making things. And, ironically, it is what my main gripe with the article was.

But my tirade didn’t stop there. No sir, the train had left the station on a one‐way trip to Rantville and the onslaught of my stream‐of‐consciousness tweets kept coming in rapid succession:

In retrospect, what a waste of bandwidth that tweet was. It added nothing to the argument. It was a knee-jerk reaction, best kept to myself. Did all my followers need to know that I was fuming? Not really. Did the tweet add anything constructive to the discussion? No.

Good going there, Aral. Nice one, champ!

And, finally, my Twitter diarrhoea ran its course with the train‐wreck of the final tweet criticising the folks at 24 ways for a lack of editorial control that I — in my haste — attributed the contents of the article to.

Again, this was unfair. Although I do believe that the article perpetuates certain myths about design that I see as harmful, I also know that Drew and Rachel care deeply about their work and produce 24 ways each year as a labour of love. Just because I didn’t agree with their editorial decision in this particular instance doesn’t justify a sweeping statement that discounts their editorial process and all of the hard work they put into the site in an effort to contribute something positive to the community.

Thankfully, by this time, I’d calmed down and started responding to replies with tweets that explained what my issues with the article actually were (that it perpetuated the myth that design is purely about aesthetics and that design can quickly be added to an existing product as a form of decoration). Other people also began chiming in with more constructive tweets than the brusque critiques in my opening salvo.

Stewart Curry’s tweet, for example, neatly summarised my own gripes with the article in a concise and constructive manner. Indeed, if it had been the only tweet on the subject, it would most likely have been enough:

All this to say that Twitter makes it all too easy to forget that although you may be alone at home, you are not speaking to yourself or thinking out loud in a vacuum. And if you have an audience of any size — let alone one that could fill a small stadium — you really should think before you tweet.

Those of us who share our thoughts and feelings with others do so because we care deeply about certain things. In my case, I care deeply about experience design for a very important reason: because I respect and care about the experiences people have in the limited time they have here on Earth. Because This is All There Is and it’s up to us to make it better. And yet, it is impossible to reconcile that with my actions on Twitter yesterday. My heart may initially have been in the right place. I do get upset when I see what I perceive to be a disregard for design as I see it as a disregard for the experience of the person using the product you’re making. However, what about the experience of the person who wrote the article as she reads my tweets? Or of Drew, Rachel, and the other folks behind 24 ways, whom I know, respect, and love and whom I consider my friends?

What may be a spur of the moment emotional reaction on a subject that you care deeply about can end up getting amplified and people may get hurt. Because there are people at the ends of your tweets.

In retrospect, I should have taken a few deep breaths instead of writing a few thoughtless tweets. Then, once my initial emotional reaction had subsided, I could have written either a single constructive tweet on the subject or, even better, penned a considered blog post about it. Instead, I chose to crap all over people’s timelines with a display of verbal diarrhoea on a subject that I may care deeply about but without considering the feelings of those involved or taking the time to formulate a constructive response. I’m sorry about that. It wasn’t nice and it’s not something that I’m proud of.

Twitter, by the very nature of its restrictive character count, favours brevity over nuance and rewards witty one‐liners over considered prose. The issue is not so much that we are using Twitter incorrectly as it is that perhaps Twitter is not the best medium in which to be having discussions. Personally, I do not like aspects of what it brings out in me. I find that even App.net, with its slightly longer character limit, lends itself to more nuanced discussion. So, from now on, I am going to make an effort to express my opinions here in the new Notes section of my site instead of using Twitter for a purpose it is not fit to serve. I will still use Twitter to keep up with things and share links to stuff I find interesting or that I have written. But there are better mediums for making considered arguments and having constructive debates.

Whether or not I agree with what Anna wrote, the way in which I expressed my disagreement was not acceptable. So, Anna, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. You took the time to share your knowledge with the community and your article does, of course, have value. There may be bits of it that I don’t agree with but unless I state what those are clearly and constructively, then neither of us can grow or learn from the experience. Since this post has, itself, grown rather long, I will leave that for a future note. It’s what I should have done initially. I hope we can have a conversation about it when it’s complete.

And, in the future, I will try doubly-hard to think before I tweet.

Because there are people at the ends of your tweets.