Twitter’s Tip-driven feature discovery

On-boarding and Feature Discovery

I’ve been on Twitter since 2008 but recently I exercised the nuclear option on my phone (243 apps installed is an occupational hazard) and Twitter got blown away with everything else.
I hadn’t miss Twitter’s incessant neediness to catch my attention and didn’t reinstall it (or Facebook) for a while but (despite my enhanced happiness) I just reinstalled it (but not Facebook 😙) and took note of how they on-boarded me.

Twitter is pretty close to what is considered a B2C App. But it’s popularity exceeded its usability for years.  It was like learning MS-DOS commands and all to just tell people what you had for breakfast. 🥓🥚

So for years it was never a truly B2C success because it’s quirky MS-DOS style only attracted “power users” and social media consultants (ok no need for sarcasm…). In more recent years they’ve truly embraced the need to be less cryptic and make the app useable to a broader set of the population.

So I reinstalled the App and here is what I noticed:

Getting a new user to “A-Ha!” (Core Utility)


On 15th Jan 2009 when Janis Krums (@jkrums) tweeted – “There’s a plane in the Hudson” – everyone finally grokked that twitter’s killer feature was instant access to raw un-curated news and that any citizen journalist could now break something important like the Arab Spring.

Eventually Twitter productized that and its its one of the first Tip you see when using the App. Its a killer.


No – Steph Curry is not wearing a nice blue hat. This popup Tip is a key “a-ha” reminder for Twitter’s tweet  refresh function.“Spring Refresh” has been around for a few years but Twitter is not leaving it to chance that a new user may not know they can get new Tweets by pulling the list down.


Obviously following people is a key function for Twitter stickiness – people want to know when their friends were Tweeting (about breakfast). But for years you never knew when someone actually tweeted that you cared about. So about 2 years ago, Twitter let you curate the people you are ACTUALLY interested to hear from. This Tip is a crucial driver of App Opens for Twitter and a crucial value enhancer for the user. No longer did I need to open the App and scroll through a bajillion tweets just to know Rui was live.
This Tip is an enhancer surfacing a killer feature.


Animated GIFs are a win for virality and having a laugh – so its natural that Twitter wants to make this easy as IMGUR to get great GIFs.

Twitter makes a smart move here to let people know about the feature. This will increase usage and they reap the viral benefits.

Misunderstood Features

People in the early days had to decipher the MS-DOS style logic of Twitter’s early design. I’ve heard it said that your power users will treat your App like an Operating System and try to figure out the features.

This is a classic case of early-adopter behavior before an App “crossed the chasm”. The early users had to decipher how to:

  • DM (private messages got learned the hard way! BTW it was “d <username>)
  • When to use “RT” for a retweet.
  • And other cryptic things like the difference between @ and .@ and
  • when to hashtag # and when to @ when some event/company had both!

So these 2 variants of a Tip are good examples of how they hid that complexity but people still needed to understand who the @ reply is going to. This nicely placed tip…in context, tells a new user exactly who should see your witty pithy reply.

Explaining New Features

I thought I knew Twitter….this tip surfaced a feature I didn’t know about:

  • Tips work even for B2C Apps and
  • Power Users can still learn a new trick. 🙂

No persona based on-boarding. Why not?

As I mentioned earlier, being a consistent user since 2008 and having logged in with that same username (@djinoz) then Twitter absolutely should be able to suppress newbies tips for me each time I install a new device.

It’s dumb they repeat this. I guess they think its “mostly harmless”.


Twitter has raised billions and at the time of writing this post, they have 12 open positions in “product and design”. Its clear that giving the user the best experience has inspired the tips that I’ve shown above.

Again, this shows us that the biggest of the big are using data-driven intelligence to decide that tips give engagement uplift and deeper connection with a product’s features. Think about this for your App. Or perhaps you’d like a role at Twitter – I’ve pasted a few of these San Francisco based jobs below.

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    Contextual & StreetHawk Inc 2023.