The Problem With Twitter Cards

I never paid much attention to Twitter Cards, the nicely formatted breakouts which accompany tweets. Most contain website details scraped from social sharing metadata. I recently found out that these cards have their own set of metadata that you can customize for Twitter. Twitter recently announced the release of a few new cards, including one for mobile apps. This spurred me to research Twitter Cards and led me to the key problem facing them today: High barrier to entry.

The first part of this problem is obscurity. Even the name, Twitter Cards, is not commonly used. While facebook metadata is widely accepted as the defacto standard of social sharing, that twitter has its own unique metadata is not widely known. Adding photo galleries, product listings, and now apps, with specially formatted presentation in a Twitter feed is a useful feature. Twitter needs to improve in publicizing these benefits.

Implementation of Twitter Cards could not be more straightforward and simple. Following the facebook metadata model, it’s as easy as adding a few extra tags to your web page’s <head> element. Hearing the announcement of the new app cards I thought it would be fun to integrate the Android app of my venerable JAWS Converter into a Twitter Card. Setup was easy however testing yielded no results. This led me to discover twitter’s developer page, which helps you debug the metatags. I also found out why my metadata would not show up as a Twitter Card. This brings us to the second part of the overall problem.

Once you setup your Twitter Card, Twitter must then manually approve it. Had I not read through the documentation and used the debugger, I would never have known about the approval process. The turnaround time for this approval process? According to Twitter: “a few weeks”. Working for a New York agency I know that kind of wait time is not acceptable for most. Regardless of the wait time, the approval process itself is antithetical to social promotion. Contrast the twitter approval process with the free-for-all approach of facebook; you put up your metadata and have custom share messaging instantly. Having to wait “a few weeks” for the privilege of sharing on Twitter is destructive to the platform.

As of posting this article, I am still waiting for approval of JAWS Converter. Developers be forewarned, there is a wait period and a significant one at that. I do think Twitter Cards are a good thing. I plan on taking full advantage of them now that I know I can. However, Twitter needs to do a much better job cultivating their developer platform if they ever want features, such as Twitter Cards, to gain the pervasiveness they deserve.

Update 5/16/2013:
My twitter card was approved! In just under 6 weeks.

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