Cloud Four Blog

Technical notes, War stories and anecdotes

First and 20: The Most Popular iPhone Apps May Surprise You

First & 20 is web site about iPhone applications describes itself as a “collection of Home screens of some of the best and brightest developers, designers and tech writers.”

First and 20 Home Page

The name comes from the fact that you can only have 20 applications on the iPhone’s Home (or first) screen.

To date, the site showcases 35 home screens from various luminaries. The site also lists the most popular applications as:

Unfortunately, First and 20 was wrong. These are not the most common applications on these 35 home screens.

Here is my count based on reviewing the 35 home screens. I gave extra credit for applications that were listed in the dock because they remain visible on every screen—not just the home screen.

Home Screen Dock Home % Dock %
Phone 35 33 100% 94%
Mail 35 28 100% 80%
Safari 35 25 100% 71%
Messages 34 13 97% 37%
Calendar 33 1 94% 3%
Camera 33 1 94% 3%
iPod 32 23 91% 66%
Maps 30 1 86% 3%
Settings 28 1 80% 3%
Clock 27 77%
Photos 25 71%
Weather 23 66%
Tweetie 21 5 60% 14%
Notes 20 57%
App Store 12 34%
Things 11 31%
Facebook 10 1 29% 3%
Birdfeed 9 3 26% 9%
Calculator 9 26%
Instapaper 8 23%

The most popular applications are Phone, Mail and Safari. These are the only three applications that are on all 35 home screens.

Looking at the table now, it seems obvious that these applications would be the most popular applications. Of course people want to make phone calls, send email, and browse the web.

But as I mentioned in a previous post, because of the focus on the the iPhone and the iPhone App Store, massive changes are happening right in front of everyone’s noses and most people are missing them.

The number of articles talking about App Stores and strike-it-rich application stories vastly outnumber those talking about the explosive growth of the mobile web.

Consequently, many businesses are focused on how their going to build an iPhone application and missing the fact that those same iPhone owners are already probably trying to access their web site on their mobile phone and failing.

Should it be surprising that the most popular applications on the iPhone are Phone, Mail and Safari? No, but if you believe what you read in the media these days, these applications are underdogs when competing against the explosion of apps.

Making calls. Sending email. Browsing the web. There are apps for that too.

Theme for 2010: The Mobile Internet is Bigger than You Think

Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker gave a fantastic presentation at Web 2.0 Summit that I’ve been meaning to post here for a few weeks. The presentation is rich with information and the slides are dense.

On slide 29, Meeker starts her argument that “The Mobile Internet Is and Will Be Bigger Than Most Think.” I encourage you to read her slides and watch the video of her talk. Both are embedded below.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how her title speaks to what is going on right now in most people’s minds when it comes to mobile.

There is so much focus on iPhone applications and the iPhone generally, that massive changes are happening right in front of everyone’s noses that aren’t being noticed or are being taken for granted.

Perhaps the simplest example of this is the explosive growth of the mobile web. We have analysts predicting that 1 billion mobile web users in 2010—more than the number of PC users accessing the web.

Opera continues to report exponential growth in usage of its Opera Mini browser—a browser designed for low end feature phones instead of smart phones like the iPhone. The biggest growth is happening in developing countries.

And despite all of this mobile web growth, most businesses aren’t taking the steps necessary to optimize their web sites for mobile devices. Some have iPhone blinders to such a degree that they undermine their own iPhone applications.

And its not just the mobile web. The same could be said for SMS, MMS, GPS, or cameras.

In her presentation, Meeker stated talked about this as a trend for 2009, but I don’t see this disconnect between the size of the mobile Internet and most people’s perception of it going away any time soon.

In fact, Meeker summarized succinctly what I’ve been writing and about presenting about for the last couple of years.

Therefore, I’m adopting her trend title as my theme for next year.

  • 2010: The Mobile Internet is Bigger than You Think

That’s right. The mobile internet is already here and it’s bigger than you think. Are you ready? If not, what are you waiting for?

Mary Meeker’s Internet Presentation 2009

Who Owns Your Retweet?

When you retweet something, do you expect someone else to be able to delete it?

Previously, if you retweeted something, your retweet was your own. Only you had the ability to delete it.

But with Twitter’s new retweet feature, your retweet is tied to the original author’s tweet. And if the original author deletes the tweet, your retweet is deleted from your timeline.

I’m not sure what the proper way to handle this is.

On the one hand, if the original author shared something they wished to retract, it would be nice to honor that.

On the other hand, the tweet didn’t happen in a vacuum. More importantly, the act of retweeting should be tied to the timeline of the person who retweeted it. Someone else shouldn’t be able to scrub that history.

What do you think?

Twitter’s New Retweet is Broken and How to Fix it

When Twitter announced their new retweet feature, I read Twitter founder Ev William’s reasons for the design of the new feature with interest. I understood his points. I didn’t agree with the solution, but was comforted by his closing note that “there’s nothing stopping you from simply quoting another tweet if that’s what you want to do. Also, old-school retweets are still allowed, as well.”

My plan was simply to ignore the new retweet feature until they fixed its shortcomings. However, Loren Brichter released a new version of my favorite Twitter client for the iPhone, Tweetie, that incorporates the new retweet feature and “deprecates” the old way of retweeting.

After spending some time with the new version of Tweetie, it became clear that the new retweet feature and all of its warts are here to stay. Instead of ignoring it, it was more important to document the ways it is broken and try to get Twitter and the developers of Twitter clients to fix it.

What Ev Got Wrong

Ev’s post does an excellent job of outlining the perceived shortcomings of the old way of retweeting. I’m grateful for his explanation. Not only is it helpful to understand the design decisions they made, but it also helps me understand where Ev missed important uses of retweets.

Attribution Confusion vs. Credibility and Reputation

One of the main things that Twitter was trying to solve with the new retweet feature is attribution confusion. “Most notably, the text of the tweet is not written by the person whose picture you’re seeing, nor the username that’s at the beginning.”

The solution to this in the new retweet feature is to show the name and picture of the original person who wrote the tweet and annotate below the tweet the name of the person you are following who retweeted the post.

The problem with this solution to attribution confusion is that it eliminates one of the main values of retweets: the credibility and reputation of the person who is retweeting.

By removing the picture of the person who retweeted and making the name much smaller, it becomes much harder to tell quickly which of the people you are following retweeted the post.

The person who retweeted a link to an article matters a lot. We place different value on the people we follow and the information they share.

In the example above, it is more important to me to know that Dave Winer was the source of the retweet than it is to know that jenny8lee—someone I don’t know—wrote the original tweet.

Tim O’Reilly is someone who I find to have very intelligent takes on technology. When I see his picture in my twitter stream, I stop scanning and pay closer attention. His credibility and reputation is what makes me pay attention to what he tweets or retweets.

This is something that the independent Twitter clients have done a better job of addressing than Twitter itself. Both Tweetie and Tweetdeck have included both the picture of the person who originated the tweet as well as the person who retweeted.

I much prefer the way Tweetie handles the retweet in the screenshot above to the way Twitter handles it. I see both Dave Winer’s name and picture. My only complaint is that the picture of the person retweeting is often too small to recognize quickly.

Redundancy vs. Dipping in the Stream

Another point that Ev makes is that “if five people you follow retweet the same thing, you get five copies, which can be useful but is a lot of noise.”

Ev is right that if you are reading every single tweet having redundant retweets can be a bit of noise. That said, it isn’t something that has ever bothered me.

The multiple retweets has however been something that has alerted me to important information. When you think of Twitter as a stream that you dip your toes into when you have time, important information can be missed if it only shows up in your stream one time. However, the more people retweet it, the more likely you are to encounter it whenever you decide to dip your toes in your Twitter stream.

I have to look no further than this past weekend to see the importance of this. On Saturday, the City of Portland announced that e-coli had been found in some of its water supply.

I happened to be out with the family in one of the affected areas. While waiting in line, I checked Twitter. By the time I checked, it had been several hours since the announcement. Yet, I saw one of the many retweets about the outbreak and was able to advise the people around me what water to avoid.

Let me repeat, the only reason I learned about the e-coli outbreak was because I received multiple retweets.

Another reason multiple retweets are valuable is because of reputation and credibility. A retweet from someone I follow whose opinion I value more highly than others is more likely to catch my eye.

There is value in multiple retweets. I’d love to have this be an option to see all retweets or only the first one.

Problems with the Current Implementations

Aside from the two viewpoints about credibility and the value of multiple retweets, there are things lacking in the current retweet implementations. As my friend Peter Whooly pointed out, it’s hard to tell if these are problems with the Twitter clients or Twitter’s API.

No Way to See Who Has Retweeted Your Tweets

In Tweetie, when you go under your profile and look at the retweets, there is no way to tell who retweeted your tweet. This is possible on Twitter’s web interface.

No Notification of Retweets

One of the nice aspects of the old style of retweeting was that retweets also contained the @reply syntax. This meant that you could not only could see the retweets easily, but if your Twitter client offered notifications for replies, you would be prompted when someone retweeted you.

Knowing when someone retweets you is important so that you can participate in the conversation.

Retweets Don’t Show Up in Lists

This again is an issue of credibility and reputation. Say you create a list of people whose opinions and thoughts you highly value. It is a very select list and you read every tweet these people write. When you look at that list, you will miss any retweets using the new feature.

Being able to see retweets in Twitter lists is a big deal.

Ability to Annotate Retweets

This is already on the Twitter team’s radar. Ev says they have some ideas on how they might implement it. This isn’t a show stopper for me, but it is for a lot of other people.

Vocal Minority or Silent Majority?

One of the things that got me worked up about this was seeing Loren Brichter’s take on the new retweet feature. He said, “vocal minority have problem with change – no doubt once they try it they’ll realize how awesome it is.”

Because Loren is the developer of Tweetie, the iPhone client I prefer to use, his opinion about the retweet feature matters. The fact that he thinks that:

  1. it is only a vocal minority that has problems with it and
  2. that we simply have a problem with change

frustrated me. From the conversations I’ve had with other users, that isn’t an accurate description.

Many of the same people who have problems with the new retweet feature embraced the new lists feature. Discounting opinions by saying people simply have a problem with change is a way of marginalizing contrary opinions without having to address them. There are legitimate issues with the retweet feature as I’ve outlined above.

And I’m not convinced that it is a minority of people who have problems with the new retweet feature. So far, I haven’t seen a single person who thinks the new retweet feature is complete.

Unlike lists which a majority of people raved about and immediately started using, the new retweet feature is something that most people seem to be at best accepting with hopes that Twitter will address its issues and at worst, so strongly opposed to the new feature that they are taking actions like refusing to upgrade Tweetie to avoid it.

How to Fix Retweets

I don’t disagree with most of what Ev said were the reasons for the new retweet feature. I also think formalizing retweets can lead to some really interesting information and features.

That said, the new feature has significant shortcomings that need to be addressed before we should consider the old way of retweeting deprecated.

I’m thankful that Loren implemented the new feature in Tweetie. It made me recognize that the feature wasn’t going away and was already impacting me even if I choose to use the old style retweet because others may use the new feature and I won’t see their retweets.

Therefore, the most important thing we can do to fix the situation is provide feedback to Twitter and Twitter client developers.

My hope is that if enough people provide feedback to Twitter (they are asking for feedback on the feature) that we can have a new retweet feature that we embrace as enthusiastically as we did Twitter lists.