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Twitter Fail

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 13th May 2009

The Twitterati are up in arms. And this time, their fury is directed at the mothership.

If you’ve ventured onto micro-blogging service Twitter today, you will certainly have noticed the new hash tag (a way of grouping or categorising  themes or similar subject matter) being used: #fixreplies

Here is the problem in a nutshell:

When you follow someone on Twitter, their updates are automatically included in your ‘feed’ so that you can follow their tweets. To start a conversation with someone, all you have to do is to begin a tweet with a Twitter ID and this directs the comment directly at them (e.g. “@Dannywhatmough what do you think about Twitter?”). Normally, if you are following the person who asks the question, but not the person the question is directed at, then that tweet does not appear in your feed.

Confused? It gets better:

Until yesterday, Twitter gave users the option to include these ‘conversational’ tweets in their feeds after all and many really liked this feature as it introduced them to potential new followers that were friends with their followers.

So (and here’s the rub) yesterday, Twitter announced (in a post entitled Small Settings Update – how ironic) that it was removing this opt-in option:

“We’ve updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it’s a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today’s update removes this undesirable and confusing option.”

And all hell has broken loose.

This whole episode raises two questions:

Did Twitter not anticipate that this would be unpopular? They, more than anyone, should know the power of the crowd and, on top of this, how many people were actually using this feature. I don’t buy the point that it was confusing new users, as this feature was opt-in so new users wouldn’t even know about it unless they searched the ‘Settings’ options.

The second questions is, if they did anticipate this backlash (and I can’t believe they didn’t), why did they still to ahead? Was there some technical problem with this feature? Was it putting too main strain on the servers?

Whatever the reason, this is one big PR disaster for Twitter and it is just so ironic that their wonderful technology is being used as the echochamber! It’ll be fascinating to see how they manage it and how long it takes them to add it back in.

Update: It seems my thoughts about potential technical issues with the feature. Here is Twitter’s latest post entitled Whoa Feedback:

“We’re getting a ton of extremely useful feedback about yesterday’s update to Settings. The engineering team reminded me that there were serious technical reasons why that setting had to go or be entirely rebuilt—it wouldn’t have lasted long even if we thought it was the best thing ever. Nevertheless, it’s amazing to wake up and see all the tweets about this change.

“We’re hearing your feedback and reading through it all. One of the strongest signals is that folks were using this setting to discover and follow new and interesting accounts—this is something we absolutely want to support. Our product, design, user experience, and technical teams have started brainstorming a way to surface a new, scalable way to address this need.

“Please stay tuned and thank you again for all the feedback.”

Update #2: This post has appeared – – all credit to the swift movement. Time will tell how this plays out and what the reaction will be on Twitter…

Danny Whatmough