When Twitter changed its feature set to exclude a favorite opt-in feature (See All @ Replies), Twitter erupted. As one of the people affected, I wanted to get my thoughts on paper. I started a bit of a back and forth via email with colleague Alexander Howard about that change and the other changes Twitter made (email notifications, indexed search and URL tracking). In the spirit of Slate and other magazines, I thought we’d post our discussion about it here.
I want to talk a bit about the recent changes in Twitter. There were 4 made this week that will impact the effectiveness of Twitter, and change its dynamic considerably over time:
1) Removal of the “See All @ Replies” Opt-In Feature
2) Delivery of Follower notices in HTML, with limited details from profile
3) Indexing and aggregating tweets by an algorithm to weight their search results
4) URL Tracking from the HTML emails
These are all huge, huge changes in how we all use Twitter. For some of us, these are not all positive changes. For example, I am personally quite worked up about the removal of “See All @ Replies” as it was a major component of how I use Twitter for discovery and connection. In addition, the combination of these four changes cause concern over control of our social media experience as the most equalizing and open social network seems to be moving to a silo model instead of a sharing model.
What do you think?
I’m glad you wrote. When I saw the hashtag #fixreplies trending on Twitter last week, I knew something significant had happened. Given your upset and that of so many others, the removal of control over the “See All @Replies Option” feature was clearly hugely controversial. I’d like to touch on the other changes you listed first, however, as it think each bears deeper discussion.
The new notification email that uses rich HTML, by way of contrast, seems to be well-received. I stopped using Twittter notifications for follower management due to volume, but the new emails offer do substantially improved value to users by including more information about each new follower. I’d be curious as to whether you see any downside there. What, for instance, does URL tracking mean to the casual or business user?
The change to search results strikes me as a potential benefit to users as well, though your “concern over control of our social media experience as the most equalizing and open social network” is understandable. As the founders and funders of Twitter look for ways to make their creation profitable, similar changes are probably on the way. I think this change comes from an understanding of the need to improve the search experience, which may well be where revenue will be derived.
A recent CNET interview with Santosh Jayaram offers more details. Google is a 1600 pound gorilla in the search engine because of the quality of its algorithm, which weights relevant results by a number of metrics.
It may be useful to consider Twitter’s search changes in that context. Twitter would no doubt like to solidify and expand upon its position in real-time search. Providing results that are ranked by authority derived from historical proof (RTs, follower interaction/#s) could be a step in that direction.
You’re right to see that as a significant change, however, as the maxim “we’re all equal in Twitter search” will no longer be true. There’s more to say, especially on @replies, but I’d like to hear more about how you used “See All @ Replies” for discovery and connection on Twitter.
When I saw the email notification changes, I was quite happy. On the one hand, it is an obvious monetization channel for Twitter with the possible future inclusion of ads in the HTML email, and the ability to target the ads better by using the information gleaned via the tracked links and how people tweet. On the other hand, it is truly is a vast improvement over the original notification emails that offered no information to assist in the decision to follow; this addition makes any potential ads in the emails worth it to me. Additionally, having ads in emails means I am not having to decipher which links in my stream might be Twitter endorsed ads and which are real links of value from people I listen to. I definitely want to keep ads and ad systems like Magpie out of the Twitter experience – it corrupts the trust network aspect of Twitter. I am actually writing a post now that touches on Twitter, MLM, Magpie and other stream-based ads and affiliate links that I hope to have up on Uptown Uncorked soon.
What the information in the new email format allows for is less time wasted. If I see a new follower with 27,897 people they follow, and 27,000 or so who follow back, and they don’t have well over that in updates, it immediately tells me that they have used one of the five or six follower count gaming systems out there to fake their numbers and look more knowledgeable on Twitter and social media than they really are, and I don’t waste any time visiting their profile to read their tweets and make a follow decision. Similarly, if I see they follow 1000 or more and only 10 follow back, that is another time saving flag that the account may be a bot or spam, and another click I don’t have to make in my busy day. Do some bots and spammers slip through anyway? Yes, and when they are discovered, either by my getting a spammy auto DM or seeing a bunch of MLM-type spammy tweets, they get removed (or in some cases, blocked).
I am leery of the change in search results to add weighted search only because of the removal of the “see all @replies” feature. By doing this, Twitter has created silos and eliminated the option for true barrier-free communication and made it just that much harder to build a trust network. It is the trust network aspect of Twitter that makes (or, made) the current discovery of new people and new links so successful. Even though not everyone chose to opt in to the feature of seeing all @ replies, those who did were vocal, and always willing to call people out for scamming, spamming and otherwise corrupting the experience. It is cause for concern to me that Twitter seems to be heading in the direction of control instead of continuing the previous path of sharing.
By silo-ing the information flow, the possibilities for Twitter to become just another channel where we are talked “at” by marketers, businesses and celebrities is quite real. There is talk from Twitter of a change toward more ways to control how you see @ replies, and that smacks of overkill to me. The beauty of Twitter has always been the “Keep It Simple Stupid” aspect. Any confusion of “See All @ Replies” as a feature was generally easily dispelled with a simple explanation from one of us who used it, allowing the asker to make their own choice of how involved to get. You are correct in saying that “we’re all equal on Twitter” was made effectively untrue by this feature’s removal.
To answer your question about how I used “See All @ Replies” for discovery and connection, I was a huge eavesdropper and conversation joiner. In spite of how many people I listen to and talk with on Twitter, I tend to surf TweetDeck with only one group – Clients – occasionally adding in a group for Thought Leaders if I’m researching something. I far prefer the noisy stream of conversations I’m not involved in to the silence that my Twitter experience has become. Before, I could ask a question and the quality of answer was better – someone I didn’t even know, connected to me through someone I had in my stream, could reply with an answer if they also had See All @ Replies turned on. This broad reach also allowed me to help more people. It connected me with charities, friends, colleagues, learning opportunities, chances to help and more. I met you through eavesdropping. I went to my first tweet up to meet Laura (@pistachio) eons ago through eavesdropping. I and much of the rest of Twitter helped a family find a home through eavesdropping. I mentor my clients’ use of social media through eavesdropping as well as monitoring tools. This change is vast and far reaching and definitely mutes the Twitter stream and shortens everyone’s reach.
I’ll stop before I climb back on my soapbox and let you volley back your thoughts on the changes.
Tag: you’re it,
Well, I’m glad I had some time ruminate upon the changes and see how the behavior of other long-time Twitter users had changed. Instead of using “RE for @Replies” as I had suggested, we can now see the introduction of the period before usernames when a user wants to ensure that all of his or her followers will see the message. I’m seeing “.@username” more and more at the start of tweets.
The .@username adaptation is a simple, user-created phenomena — but then, @replies were exactly that to begin with. It feels appropriate, and, under the current technical structure, effective.
I deeply appreciated the insight you’ve offered into your own social media use. I can understand now why you this particular change is frustrating to you. From my own observation this past week, it would appear that the conversations have become more silo’ed, unless clever users structure their accounts differently to accommodate @mentions, not @replies, and add that .@username to surface the tweet in everyone’s stream.
Realistically, of course, those adjustments by old hands aren’t going to be seen or acknowledged by the masses of people joining Twitter, at least at first. This streamlining of conversation will help them make sense of the medium. I certainly remember the day when I installed a Greasemonkey script that inserted threaded replies into my stream. This change doesn’t approach that level of user-friendliness, unfortunately, but then I’m not sure that mobile users would appreciate or be able to readily navigate the long conversation threads at Friendfeed or Facebook.
Given the furor that emerged, it’s unfortunate that Twitter’s founders didn’t talk with the community before the change or provide clear guidance on the technical reasons for why the system needed to be changed. Dare Obesanjo offered the clearest explanation for why Twitter’s engineers may have needed to change the way @replies worked and, in the absence of further exposition from @Biz or @Al3x, that’s probably going to have suffice. Marshall Kirkpatrick did an estimable job of blogging about why the @replies change occurred when it first occurredand then following up with an explanation of how @replies work now.
I suspect that @Biz, @Jack and @Ev have learned all over again how tricky it is to introduce changes to a social software program that fundamentally alter a dynamic that was community-created. Mark Zuckerberg certainly can tell them a tale or two about that experience, given the backlash Facebook has endured after the introduction of the newsfeed, Beacon, the TOS change or the redesign. Then again, Facebook broke 200 million users, so it may well be that the Twitter founders will learn another lesson: follow your technical team’s mandates and trust your gut about what will work with respect to user experience, UI design and function. It does seem clear that in these cases and elsewhere, the public faces of the company will save a few gray hairs if they preempt the upset by explaining clearly why changes are happening and what problems they solve, perhaps by answering the @replies of their users.
So where does all that leave us? In a quieter, more understandable Twitter environment, with fewer opportunities to eavesdrop and find new people — as, indeed, you found me. We now have a new incentive to find and follow more users, if we want to hear *all* of their conversations, though Twitter’s founders and others have recognized that at scale, hearing all of that torrent is impossible. I think your concerns about a loss of open conversation merit a hearing on the part of the creators of the code behind the platform — but then that’s what blogging (and microblogging) is all about, right?
I’m glad we talked. Over the course of our conversation, my use of Twitter has been changing dramatically due to the feature removal. The removal of the “See All @ Replies” feature has also affected my time management as a business owner, costing me efficiency as I find I must add external tools and spend valuable additional time to search for new people and to monitor existing clients during the mentoring process.
Through this process, the #fixreplies and #twitterfail hashtags continue to trend periodically, and to be active daily. To this end, let me close with some resources for those who would like the feature brought back in spite of Twitter’s official stance that it will not return as it was:
PetitionSpot Petition from OyezOyez
TwtPoll About #Fixreplies and Trust
I may have missed some of the petitions and polls – there were so many going around that I actually think it may have diminished their impact by spreading the count too thin.
I may end up writing a separate blog post on Uptown Uncorked about the business impact of the change on my business and my clients’ business, perhaps with advice on how to change your Twitter habits to work with the new limitations. At some point I have to decide whether or not continuing to spend time on a subject is valuable or will effect change – time is one asset that can’t be replaced, after all.
Thanks for hashing this out with me!
See you on Twitter,