There is a specter haunting Twitter—the specter of a stupid blue notification dot.
You know of what I speak. This week, Twitter debuted Moments, its new section meant to make the social network accessible to a larger audience and bring the company closer to profitability. Users can pop onto the feature in the Twitter app or in their Web browser and find a list of the day's trending stories accompanied by a handful of curated tweets, allowing them to quickly catch up on anything major they might have missed while their eyes weren't glued to a screen.
In theory, this could be a useful little tool. Twitter's infinite cascade of ephemera can be confusing. Even for regular users, checking in sometimes feels like stumbling into seven different angry dinner arguments midstream. Having one place to figure out what's going on without backtracking through a tangled web of tweets sounds like a decent idea.
There is a problem, however. Moments, so far, is terrible. The story selection feels scattershot and stale. Most of the headlines are newswire-dull. The carefully selected tweets are rarely sparkling. It feels a bit like reading a desperate, me-too version of Snapchat Discover, and I have no desire to use it.
Except, there's that dot.
Yes, that dot. In its mobile app, Twitter has taken the same blue notification dot that lets users know about a new mention and deployed it to alert them that, hey, there's a new moment to check out. For a neurotic, social-media-addled individual like myself, it is absolutely infuriating.
Let me elaborate. For avid Twitter users, the blue recognition dot triggers a Pavlovian response, sort of the same way hearing "you've got mail" did back when we were all logging on to AOL with 56K modems. It sends a frisson of anticipation. Perhaps someone has favorited your deliciously witty tweet, feeding you a small but satisfying digital breadcrumb of recognition. Maybe somebody out there in the ether wants to chat. Or maybe it's a troll knocking at your door ready to ruin your day. Who knows! Point being, there is something potentially interesting and maybe even flattering sitting there waiting to be revealed. You must thumb your way over.
By putting the blue dot above the Moments lightning bolt, Twitter is attempting to take advantage of the quick-twitch psychological response it has so effectively wired into its users thanks to mentions. Except it's a bait-and-switch. If you click the Moments tab, there will be no gratification, just another bland menu of news stories you could probably find elsewhere. And so you have a choice. Either capitulate and click just to make the dot disappear, or leave it there to nag you for hours while you can only mutter, Lady Macbeth–like, "Out out, damn dot!"
At first, I thought the irritation would pass after a few days. It has not. And a quick search of Twitter makes it clear other feels similarly.
"Push me! Right now! Push me right now!" -- that little blue dot on the Moments tab, all day— Eli Langer (@EliLanger) October 9, 2015
*puts wite-out over the blue dot on the moments tab*— dan mentos (@DanMentos) October 8, 2015
it is taking all of my self-restraint not to click that goddam lightning bolt and try to make the dot disappear. i am in hell.— Caitlin Kelly (@atotalmonet) October 8, 2015
*taps the moments button so the blue dot goes away*— Kevin (@fatmanatee) October 9, 2015
Nothing brings me as much joy as when the little blue dot reappears next to Moments— Prof Jeff Jarvis (@ProfJeffJarvis) October 9, 2015
The new moments tab on here is going to drive me insane. I'm never going to look at it but it always has a blue dot so I'll have to click it— Carli (@clynn_101512) October 9, 2015
There are plenty more where those came from.
When I tried to explain all of this to my Twitter-abstaining wife the other night, she stared at me in silence as if I had lost my mind. And maybe, to some degree, I have. But that's the thing. Twitter has done an excellent job cultivating slavish devotion among its core fans for whom tiny changes to the app can become inordinately irritating, like a splinter in your finger or a pebble in your shoe. At the same time, there are little things it could probably do to avoid alienating them while on its quest to catch up with Facebook's scale. Like, you know, giving us the option to turn off the moments notification. It's a small request, really.