Twitter & fixing replies (aka “Why am I writing this?”)

14 May 2009

So I got quoted in the Guardian Tech blog on the Twitter replies debacle. And quite frankly, nobody cares about this, but once your name’s on a national newspaper website it’s best to lay the record down, so here goes.

When someone replies to you on Twitter in public, they use the @ sign like IRC. When looking at others’ replies in your stream, you had the choice of either seeing every single @ reply that people you followed made, or just those to other people you followed. 2% chose the former option, 98% chose the latter. Yesterday Twitter changed it to the latter only.

Cue backlash from the 2%. Cue backlash against the backlash (from me, amongst others). So Twitter freaked out, backed off and fessed up – discriminating between those you follow and those you don’t was proving to be not scalable. So the solution was to reverse the decision, and make @s to everyone visible – unless they were done through the “reply” button. So you now have to rely on how others use the system rather than have control over it – the worst possible solution.

Intermission: Nobody gives a shit about this. Why am I writing about this? WHY?

A half-arsed solution if ever there was one, and one that caused me annoyance. I flippantly Tweeted my annoyance – which I still stand by – and this got a mention in the Guardian’s Tech blog (thanks guys). But this is one of those things that needs more than 140 characters to elaborate on,so here goes…

Twitter’s approach was a classic fail in consulting users. The @ was a community-created asset and Twitter messed with it for no apparent good reason. Cure was worse than problem, and then they were forced into an icky compromise that suits no-one. The solution? They could fessed up it was causing problems, and announced a change well in advance. To help users prepare for it, they could extend the API to allow clients like Twhirl & Tweetdeck know the user IDs of who you follow and who you don’t. Then the clients can make the discrimination between followed and not followed, instead of the server, and the choice can be exercised at that end. Scalable, user-chosen, none of the problems encountered above.

Right, that’s it. Of all the things I’m meant to be writing about, I didn’t expect to write at length about this. Better stuff to come, promise.

If you’re thinking about commenting, don’t – I’ve wasted enough of the planet’s time as it is, please don’t add to it.


One Response

I very much enjoy my Twitter experience and so do millions of others. Nobody gets upset when companies add new functionality to software, but you can understand why people get irate when functionality is removed without consultation. Users have great affection for Twitter, I think we’d like our views to be discussed and respected. Rgds Vince