#fixreplies: I’m placated

Three Percent and Dead Bird

As you may or may not have seen, Twitter’s had a rough go of it from its users (including me) over the past couple days as a result of how they’ve handled the backlash from their “small settings change” which removed the option to handle reply filtering. The rough go’s well-deserved, too, as Biz Stone on the Twitter blog cycled through explanations — a no-no! — first calling the reply filtering option confusing and then attributing the sudden removal of the feature to a technical limitation. Then, Biz blogged a change to replies that potentially made the feature even more confusing. I’m not going to get into those gory details; Marshall Kirkpatrick has a good writeup of the changes at ReadWriteWeb (disclosure: I do design work for RWW part-time [including the graphic in the Twitter post]). Finally, Biz set the record straight, acknowledging the communication failures of the preceding day, explaining that the removal of the feature was both a decision relating to user experience as well as technical and scalability issues (the technical issues apparently demanded a sudden removal of the feature) and a clear plan on how to restore similar functionality.

I’m cool with this explanation. What befuddles me is why Biz didn’t acknowledge it was a technical problem in the first place — I suspect this would have been taken far better if he’d done that first. What’s done is done, and I’m eager to see if they can build out a scalable feature which helps meet the needs of the 3% who strayed from the defaults. (The 3% revelation prompted a little fun from Robert Scoble on FriendFeed; thus, the image above, which you can get on a t-shirt if you want.)

Again, though, I’m feeling a bit better about things now. I miss the increased firehose of my timeline, but at the same time, I’m growing a bit used to not seeing all the replies, and that feeling like I’m missing something is waning a bit. You know what else? It’s nice to know that everybody has uniform settings now. I actually feel better about sending replies to users in public than I did before, because I have a tendency to reply in public a lot and thus would come across as noisy to those who were early adopters or had set the settings to full-blast. Now, I don’t have to worry about that. If someone really wants the noise, @s and all, there’s my FriendFeed, which is honestly better for conversations anyway.

Twitter’s “small settings update” is a big mistake

There’s been a lot of griping about the mainstreaming of Twitter, whether it be alpha-geeks being threatened over “normal people” invading “their turf” or, more recently, spammers invading the trending topics with garbage and, in some cases, malcontent. Those items haven’t bothered me that badly; Twitter is richer with more people using the service, and while spammers in the trending topics are terrible, it’s not necessarily a bad problem to have if you’re a fledgling service (“look, we’re being spammed – we’ve made it!”). No, my biggest fear has been Twitter changing the experience and watering down features, and tonight, they’ve forcibly changed my experience in a way I do not appreciate.

Twitter will no longer show me replies to people I’m not following. Previously, Twitter let users control the level of conversation in their streams in three ways:

  • See @replies to people you are following — conversation between only those you follow showed up in your stream
  • See all @replies — any reply to any user, regardless of whether you were following them or not, showed up in your stream
  • No @replies — show no conversation in your stream

By default, new users got the experience now being forced on everyone: They’d only see conversations between the folks they’re following. This was fine for decreasing noise for one-ended conversations, but what if you ran across a side of a conversation that was relevant to you and you wanted to see more? What if the person on the other side of the conversation was very much relevant to what you’re looking for in someone to follow? Discovering folks by conversation you find fascinating is absolutely the best way to add to your following, and to not have at least the option to turn on that full stream to enable that discovery really bothers me, because that was part of what made Twitter so rich.

Change it back, Twitter. You’ve hijacked my user experience and I don’t appreciate it.