How Twitter Minimizes a User’s Frustrations (Right Under Their Nose)

by Melissa Karnaze

When Twitter is down due to maintenance or too much traffic, you get to see pastel-colored cartoons on the homepage.

Twitter uses an illustration by Yiying Lu’s as their “Fail Whale” — which shows up whenever Twitter is over capacity.

Notice how the birdies try desperately hard to keep the whale afloat?

(As in, above the water’s surface.)

Well, those birdies represent the Twitter team — trying desperately hard to keep Twitter working for users.

But did you notice the second message?

While you gaze at Lu’s artwork — you overlook how Twitter minimizes a negative event: a Twitter page that won’t load.

And yes, Twitter is a free service, and no, they are not obligated to operate at 100% all of the time.

But whenever you want to log onto an online service and you can’t — the last thing you are is happy about it.

Except when it comes to Twitter. Then it’s just cute.

Another example

When Twitter is down due to technical errors, you get to encounter their innocent-looking broken robot.

The error message reads:

Something is technically wrong.
Thanks for noticing—we’re going to fix it up and have things back to normal soon.”

Okay, so what do you notice?

Besides the fact that unlike the poor robot, you’re not malfunctioning, in Twitter’s own words… you “notice that something is technically wrong.”

But of course you notice, isn’t that obvious? If you’re tying to get to your Twitter page, you will notice if your page doesn’t show up.

Ah, but Twitter’s message is actually designed to get you to not notice.

Or not notice as much. Or not notice that you were starting to get frustrated with this free service that you wish would function better, or at least more of the time.

How about noticing this:

Thank you for noticing our error”

has a much different meaning than,

We’re sorry about the error.”

Being thanked makes you feel good. And maybe distracts you from feeling let down.

Being apologized to won’t necessarily make you feel bad. But it probably won’t distract you from feeling let down — and might even intensify the feeling.

That’s what Twitter wants to avoid.

That’s how they spin a positive from a negative, minimize a user’s frustration — right under their nose.

What do you think?

Is Twitter trying to minimize the frustration that comes with not being able to load the site?

If they are, what do you think about the practice? Just part of online business? Friendly, thoughtful, nice? Necessary, or sneaky? Does it work?

Is minimizing frustration online more excusable than in real life?

Consider this…

Someone close to you hurts your feelings. You tell them about it, and they reply:

“Thank you for noticing my error.”

How would that make you feel?

Or what if they reply:

“I’m going to fix this mistake and have things back to normal soon.”

Would you feel any differently?

And would you still want an apology?

Share your thoughts below.

About the Author: Melissa Karnaze likes to tweet about emotional health, mindfulness, psychology, and related topics. Catch her on Twitter @mindfulconstrct

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

susan kuhn April 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Thought-provoking article. What interests me most about it this: in the first instance (apologizing) the comments are all about the site/person with the error. But the second, lighter comments/art are about the other person. They acknowledge the reality of the other person (annoyed, frustrated, potentially) and address it directly, rather than make their comment ALL ABOUT THEMSELVES.

And since this is a mindfulness blog: what does this say about mindfulness? The latter approach keeps it in the moment — the moment as experienced by the user encountering the situation. An apology takes it out of the moment, and says, we’ll make it better in the future, but leaves the individual’s frustration alone. It also ignores one painful emotion and creates another.

Far better to provide a pleasant experience rather than add to our internet frustrations.

Thanks for this interesting take!

wd June 15, 2011 at 7:15 am

To me is the same crap, a site that could not implement more than X (I don’t remember the exact amount) characters and argues you’re probably wrong if you exceed such amount of characters.

domy jednorodzinne March 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm

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