Some thoughts on #fixreplies

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Note: If that title makes no sense to you then you should probably skip this entry. If you are on Twitter and the title makes sense to you but you don’t know exactly why then prerequisite reading is a series of posts by @Biz on the twitter blog: Small Settings Update, Whoa, Feedback!, We Learned A Lot and finally The Replies Kerfuffle. It should be pointed out that this is exactly how a company/service should be interacting with it’s customers/users.

In the most recent post Biz starts off saying:

We removed a setting that 3% of all accounts had ever touched but for those folks it was beloved.

I find that figure hard to believe, of course they know better than I do but I know I used it and tend to think most of my friends did too, at least the uproar I saw in my own stream and the replies that were sent to me when I was talking about that make me feel that way. Biz goes on to note it was a setting that most people never changed from the default. If I remember correctly that wasn’t always the case and originally everyone saw all replies all the time, then they added the option for you to only see certain one and possibly changed the default at that point. I’m not sure about that but it’s neither here nor there honestly, the only important fact is they changed something with replies that seriously impacted some of their users.

Twitter / Peter Rojas: r @seanbonner Seriously, t ...

I understand why they did it from a use standpoint and I’ve certainly heard people asking for similar changes so I thought I’d discuss a little about how I use replies and what might be good directions to go from here. I’m sure twitter has their own plans already in some form of motion but just for discussions sake I’m doing it anyway.

As Peter mentions in the tweet above, having conversations with your friends is one thing but being a fly on the wall for your friends conversations with others is something else entirely and where I think some of the real value of twitter lies. If Biz is right and only 3% of people were using this, I think the real story is that 97% of people were missing out on a massively valuable part of the service. Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had on twitter were with people I didn’t know and weren’t following, but a friend of mine said something interesting to and I jumped into the conversation. Likewise almost all of the very few people I follow who I don’t know in person I found out about because a friend replied to something they said and I clicked over to see who they were talking to. It was a really valuable way to find new people and new topics.

That’s the specific, on a wider view seeing replies all day long to people I don’t know gave me a pretty good idea what kinds of issues are on peoples minds today. Even if I wasn’t talking about them with anyone, I just knew what others were chatting about. For me, someone who deals in recognizing trends early on, that was really valuable.

I understand that wasn’t the case for everyone and I know plenty of people who complained that they saw replies to people they didn’t like or didn’t want to be reminded of and wished for a way to block any conversation with that person. I also know the frustration of seeing an interesting reply to someone and clicking their name only to find they have a private account and so I’m left with only half a conversation. That’s something I’ve even publicly asked for a way to block myself. But we’re into all or nothing and the bigger issue is having a say about what you see, or at least not having less options today then you had yesterday. Taking features away is rarely seen as an improvement from a user standpoint – sure new users will never know they are missing something but existing users will always feel like something was taken away from them.

I’m making this sound all negative but it’s not. Earlier tonight Tara went from “this sucks” to “I love this” with the following tweet:

Twitter / Tara Tiger Brown: I'm embracing this whole # ...

She said she suddenly felt unburdened and could reply to anyone about anything without fear of annoying people who were following her. That’s a positive spin, though now I feel like kind of a dick because I’ve never considered who I might be annoying with my replies but that’s all water under the bridge at this point. As things stand at this moment you will only see replies from your friends to people you are following, and any tweet that starts with “@username” is considered a reply. Biz stated that they intend to change that so only tweets initiated by clicking the “reply” button will be considered replies but that isn’t in effect yet. This change is barely 2 days old and already people have figured out work arounds and are adding a character like “.” or “r” to the front of reply tweets to fool twitter and ensure anyone can see them. The fact that this is going on already lends to the value of those tweets in some peoples eyes. So what might twitter do in the future?

I really hope they don’t think the only value of those tweets was to find interesting people to follow and just make one more list of suggested people. There’s a big difference between someone actively telling you to follow someone and coming to that conclusion on your own passively and that is a very important distinction. This is what I’d like to see:

Protect replies to protected accounts – If I can’t see someone’s tweets, I don’t want to see replies to them ever. It’s frustrating at best and annoying at worst. Of course if I can see their protected tweets then I want to see the replies to them as well, so a friend connection trumps that.

Bulk reply filtering – If someone I’m following replies to 20-30 people in the span of a few minutes it can flood my stream and the signal to noise goes way down. I’d like to see an option where if someone replies to more than 5 people over the course of 10 minutes or so then rather than seeing all of those replies I’d simply see something similar to a Facebook update stating they had been active, something like:

@seanbonner just replied to 37 people. Click here to see those replies.

And clicking that would just take you to my profile. This would save tons of screen real estate and require less server load on the back end.

Reply segregation – while not ideal, maybe what twitter could offer would be to show replies from your friends to people you follow in your stream, but a secondary page with replies from your friends to people you don’t follow that if you are interested you could check out. Maybe that’s more work then it’s worth.

Coffee delivery – Twitter should definitely provide a service where someone brings me coffee. And not the crappy stuff either.

For me personally I feel like something I got a great deal of peripheral value from was taken away without any notice with a reasoning that made no sense to me. The reasoning has been corrected but I definitely feel like I’m missing something over the last two days on twitter. I’m glad they are listening and I really hope they figure out a way to quickly give people who want it back the functionality they had a week ago.

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22 Comments »

  1. Why not leave the option but set the default to only your people you follow. That way the new users they made the change for in the first place only see their friends and the “advanced” users can go in and change it to all replies. Basically the reverse of the way it was.

    Comment by Clintus — May 15, 2009 @ 1:07 pm
  2. @Clintus

    The differentiation @ev made was that the db lookup for that value was the most expensive of its processes. Changing the default doesn’t ameliorate that.

    I think the 3% is bogus, if not intentionally. The uproar, as evinced by the need for multiple blog posts from Twitter if nothing else, tells us there’s a demand for this. That #fixreplies Yahoo! Pipes project is a good effort, but would need to support my following list, not only one username. TweetDeck’s search function may serve a similar function, but even if it’s smoother and all in one interface, it’s still impractical.

    Any word on some kind of 3rd-party service that does precisely this thing? If I had time + skill, I might create a Yahoo! Pipe or such myself, but that hypothesis is false.

    Comment by Daniel Black — May 15, 2009 @ 2:41 pm
  3. Reading Biz blog replies it seems that it really is/was a technical problem, first and foremost. A bit like the coffee delivery. It sucks but software architecture on services like Twitter must be crazy hard. Especially with hot liquid ordering.

    Comment by Harold — May 15, 2009 @ 2:57 pm
  4. When I joined Twitter (2007) the default was definitely to see ALL @replies. It drove me nuts, actually, and I changed my settings to only see @replies to people I follow. But I liked that it was an option, you know?

    Comment by Annika — May 15, 2009 @ 3:41 pm
  5. Like Tara, I was growing fond of the @replies going away for a bit. It should be an option.

    Comment by Erica — May 15, 2009 @ 4:50 pm
  6. Everyone I talk to is saying they remember seeing all replies at one point so the 3% thing seems really weird to me. Maybe it was backwards and 97% of people were using it?

    Comment by Sean Bonner — May 15, 2009 @ 4:58 pm
  7. Before Twitter embraced the user-created @reply method of responding to someone, everyone could see all @replies. To me, part of the fun of twitter was helping to evolve it as a massive collective early adopter userdom. The fact that the design team at Twitter was scrambling to keep up with the way its users were using it was fun. In a way, their recent move feels like getting reined in. I’ve compared to Twitter to jazz before, because there is an improvised feel to it. It’s a constantly evolving global conversation that really thrives when it gets a little cacophonous. Making it less “noisy” may seem like a positive step to people that aren’t using twitter for anything more than self-promotion or gloating, but I feel like Twitter died a little bit. A simple option to make a reply public or private would have been fine. Luckily, I have no doubt that another outlet will soon replace Twitter and am likewise convinced that in its early stages, it will be reckless and open and exciting. Also, donuts should come with coffee delivery.

    Comment by shane — May 15, 2009 @ 5:13 pm
  8. I’m jumping in since I was one of the people that replied to you a couple times about this on Twitter. I feel I should clarify in case it didn’t seem that way from my tweets that I’m one of the few people who’s glad this setting was removed. I’ve been calling it the “stalker” setting this whole time and always referred to the people who read ALL tweets as “The Crazies” – so I’m glad to see it go.

    While not wanting to have my profile set to private, I appreciate being able to know who is following me and reading my tweets. I found it kinda creepy when someone I don’t know, who isn’t following me and who I wasn’t following, would suddenly jump into the middle of a conversation I was having with someone else. When you have your list of followers you know basically who is seeing your tweets, other than the few people who managed to catch something you say via the timeline or search. When a stranger out of nowhere suddenly butts into a conversation I was having with someone else, it was rather disconcerting to me. I realize that on Twitter I am speaking openly to the public but at the same time, I generally know who my public is. When people who don’t follow me show up out of nowhere and start replying to something I just said in the midst of a conversation with someone else, it just feels out of place and dare I say it, rude.

    Also, like Tara mentioned in her tweet, this change removes the issue of people constantly complaining that you “tweet too much”. I used to get that a lot even though my tweets to my entire follow list were only averaging between 5 to 7 per day, sometimes a little bit more when I’d get excited about something. These people were complaining that I tweet too much because they had the stalker setting on and were seeing every single reply to every single person I converse with. If they weren’t eavesdropping on my conversations with others, all of my “too many” tweets would never have been an issue. And yeah, to me it really does feel like eavesdropping. In “real life” if I’m not talking to you and you suddenly interrupt in the middle of my conversation, we’d call it ‘butting in’, but somehow on Twitter it’s called ‘discovery’. Frankly, I think there’s better ways to find and met people on Twitter than to just butt into their conversations midstream.

    I realize I’m in the minority on this one but I figured it was important to mention that not everyone liked this setting and some of us are glad it’s been removed.

    I think it’s cool that they are talking about bringing the option back in some other format, but I hope that when they do so it will also provide some kind of opt-in setting or something on the users (tweeters?) end. I’d like the option of a middle ground between setting my profile to totally private or having every single tweet read by every single person even if they’re not following me.

    On that note, another feature I really want to see is the option to view someones profile only showing their public tweets, minus any @ replies (in other words, the anti-stalker view). When I’m trying to decide if I want to follow someone by looking at their profile, two pages full of @ replies (to other people I’m not going to follow and therefore not read or see if I choose to follow this person) is very distracting. If we could see a page of just the persons main tweets, it would give a clearer picture of what this person likes to talk and tweet about. I imagine though that most people would probably hate and complain about this too! Oh well…

    Comment by Foodeater — May 15, 2009 @ 6:48 pm
  9. FoodEater – I didn’t think of me replying to someone that was replying to someone else was like budding into a conversation. That probably explains why I didn’t get a single reply to the 20+ people that I @replied to last night based on random Twitter Searches. I mean, I did reply with valuable insight, so they should damn well appreciate that…I think the Private Setting is for that, prevent whack jobs like me replying randomly. I think I got it from living in SoCal for 2 months…people randomly say stuff to me and at first I freaked, but now I kind of like it. Friendly, ya know! Good way to meet new people. I think I will continue randomly replying and see what % of the time I get a reply and actually make a new pal.

    Comment by Tara — May 15, 2009 @ 7:27 pm
  10. Tara, I guess I was exaggerating a bit :) I don’t see every single random reply from a stranger as butting in, but yeah, many of them I do. I supposed it’s all about the context. Frequently my friends and I will go back and forth on twitter being silly, trading stupid inside joke sort of stuff that really no one else would get- just shooting the shit between friends- what I write is meant for that person and the other people who I know follow us both. When someone inserts themselves into a conversation like that out of nowhere, it’s just weird to me because it wasn’t intended for them, and if they didn’t have the ALL @ replies on they wouldn’t have seen it in the first place. There are frequently obvious inside joke conversations going on between you and Sean- I follow him but neither of you follow me. If I were to just jump in and be all “hardy har har Tara, he sure showed you!” in the midst of something that clearly has nothing to do with me and which I couldn’t possibly know the context of, it would be totally out of place and just, well… weird.

    It’s also odd to me that anyone would actually want to read every single tweet in that way. For example my main public Twitter account is mostly about vegan food in Los Angeles, but I do have followers who aren’t vegan and are just people I know and am friends with, as well as followers I don’t know and am not personal friends with. If I’m having a few tweets back and forth with my non-vegan friend about his sons soccer practice or his wife’s kidney stones – I don’t understand why the folks who are following me for the vegan restaurant info would be interested in receiving (or replying to) these non-related, personal tweets between me and someone else they don’t follow… someone who isn’t vegan and who these readers probably have no interest in following. I guess I should find it flattering that people are THAT interested in everything I have to say that they want to be able to catch every last tweet, but again to me it just feels more creepy than complimentary.

    To stretch the example, it’s like listening in on someone else’s phone conversation. Even though my conversation isn’t so super private that I need to go in another room and lock the door so no one hears it, it just seems like common courtesy that if I’m on the phone talking to someone you don’t know, that you’d give me some personal space, not listen in on the entire conversation without being invited to, and not pick up a third phone and just start talking to us both, even though you don’t even know the person on the other line that I’m talking to or the context of the pre-existing conversation.

    In my opinion, finding something interesting via search as you described and then replying to that person is different than just leaping into a conversation between other people out of context, and is therefore not as creepy. I realize we all use Twitter differently and for different reason, but for all the same reasons I described above, when I find someone interesting via search or any other way, I generally don’t just reply out of the blue to something they are talking to someone else about- instead I’ll follow them and then reply to them in context once I’m receiving their stream and they are aware that I’m listening in. That’s how I’d prefer it done for me so that’s the same courtesy I extend to others.

    Comment by Foodeater — May 15, 2009 @ 8:29 pm
  11. Foodeater – I have to say I don’t agree with you at all on this. If you want your tweets to only be read by certain people you should have your account private, otherwise the expectation should be that the entire web is reading them, because they are able to. If that bothers you that isn’t a defect in the software it’s you misunderstanding the software.

    It’s nothing like a phone call or an in person conversation like you reference – when I call someone on the phone my expectation is that I’m talking to them directly and solely, when I speak to someone in public it’s clear that even though others can hear the conversation it’s not directed at all of them. Twitter isn’t that situation at all. With twitter it’s more akin to you standing on a stage with a megaphone blasting out thoughts to a room of people and occasionally some of them reply or ask a question and you then respond to them directly, but you are still on a stage broadcasting. Private or dedicated conversations should not be held in an area like that, they should be done via e-mail or some form of private messaging. It’s not fair for you to use something designed to broadcast to a large group of people and then be disturbed when a large group of people listens to what you are broadcasting.

    You say it’s odd that anyone would want to read tweets this way but I only follow people I think are interesting, and that includes anything they think they should put into twitter – not only the things directed to me. If something isn’t interesting to me I should be the one deciding not to listen to it, twitter shouldn’t be making that decision for me.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — May 16, 2009 @ 12:10 am
  12. “Twitter isn’t that situation at all. With twitter it’s more akin to you standing on a stage with a megaphone blasting out thoughts to a room of people and occasionally some of them reply or ask a question and you then respond to them directly, but you are still on a stage broadcasting.”

    I think that’s probably where we disagree the most. Even though I might be broadcasting with a megaphone to a room full of people, I know who all is in that room listening to me because I let them in when they signed up to attend my lecture. When some guy who just happened to be in the next room and not part of the proceedings suddenly sticks his head in the door and yells out a question and runs off (having already missed most of the lecture), it would not only disturb me as the speaker but everyone else in the room who’s been paying attention the whole time and taking part.

    I take a look at every persons profile that follows me, and I exercise my right to block people who I don’t want reading my posts. Why even have the blocking feature if it’s all about anyone being able to read everything even if you don’t want them to?

    I don’t post anything that I consider too private on my public account, so I am not misunderstanding how Twitter works and that’s not really what I have an issue with. I have a private account for when I want to share things that really are private. That said I think it should be possible to have some sort of middle ground between keeping accounts private and having a free-for-all. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be able to continue using Twitter the way that you enjoy using it, but I am saying that I should be able to have a choice as to if I want to let you use ‘my’ twitter in a way that I don’t want you to. I would think that a simple opt-in for allowing people to read all of your @ replies or not would be more than sufficent to satisfy either angle.

    Comment by Foodeater — May 16, 2009 @ 12:46 am
  13. Foodeater – again I think you are misunderstanding how twitter works which is leading to your assumptions.

    ANYONE can read your tweets, they don’t have to be following you. They can simply go to your profile and read anything you post and you’ll never know it.

    ANYONE can also subscribe to your RSS feed and read everything you tweet, again you will never know who these people are or have any tip off that they are doing it.

    If you have a public profile blocking someone only prevents them from following you, they can still read your tweets via the two above methods without you knowing.

    These are not bugs, this is the nature of the platform. If you want twitter to be a private lecture to only people you approve you need to have a private account, because otherwise you are broadcasting to everyone even if you don’t want to think you are. This isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — May 16, 2009 @ 1:25 am
  14. I’m not making any assumptions and I’m not misunderstanding anything. Again, everyone uses Twitter differently, so the way you choose to use it doesn’t have to be the same way I use it, or for the same reasons. Just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong or that I don’t know how it works.

    I realize that there are various ways to access someone’s feed. Regardless, when people can’t see all the @ replies via the regular stream, such as on their homepage or on something like Tweetdeck, it’s a lot more work to go and see at what someone is saying to other people that they don’t follow (this is obviously true or you would have nothing to be so upset about). I’m not under any assumption of privacy, so please stop telling me that I am, nor do I want my public profile to be private. There’s a big difference between what someone chooses to broadcast to everyone via a normal tweet to all followers and anyone else out there reading it, and what they choose to discuss on the side one-on-one via @ replies. I still see no reason why it should be mandatory that these side conversations that I choose to have with people should be available to everyone in their stream, it should be a choice. And please before you tell me that I still don’t understand, yes, I do understand that these message are still out there to be read by anyone, but nowhere near as easily as before, and not delivered right on to their homepage.

    I’m not here to argue with you or to discuss the intricate mechanical in’s and out’s of how Twitter works as I’m clearly not a Twitter expert or engineer. I’m simply giving you a different opinion on this change, not asking you to agree with me. You’re clearly passionate about this situation, as am I considering that I’ve actually wanted this feature to go away for a long time, as have others. I assumed because you’ve been so vocal about it and wrote a blog post on it that you would be open to hearing others opinions on the matter, so now you have mine. I’ll leave at that as I don’t think either of us are interested in trying to convince the other. I will emphasize one more time however that I’m not advocating that this feature be taken away permanently, but I don’t see what the harm is in giving people like me who don’t want it the choice to opt out.

    Comment by Foodeater — May 16, 2009 @ 5:18 am
  15. I’m with Tara on this one. I feel incredibly liberated, and now I can reply to all kinds of people without feeling like we’re talking in front of half a million other people, even though we kind of are.

    I also love your idea for limiting updates when someone replies to a lot of people in a short amount of time.

    Comment by wil — May 16, 2009 @ 5:20 am
  16. Foodeater- You’ve called people who read all tweets crazy, rude, and stalkerish and now you are saying people can choose to use it differently and that isn’t wrong or bad? You’ve said you like knowing who is reading your tweets so you can block people you aren’t comfortable with even though the software doesn’t allow for either of those things and yet insist you aren’t misunderstanding anything. You’ve said you are glad the option was removed because you didn’t like other people using it even if you weren’t, and then say it’s OK for people to use it differently. You say you only want the option to turn it off, which you had before, but don’t think others should have the option to turn it on. Sounds like some serious double standards to me.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — May 16, 2009 @ 4:27 pm
  17. what @Annika said

    Comment by jsto — May 17, 2009 @ 3:42 am
  18. I can see both sides of this issue, and I think Foodeater has given the perfect solution – “I would think that a simple opt-in for allowing people to read all of your @ replies or not would be more than sufficent to satisfy either angle.”

    I don’t think it’s fair that people can no longer view as many tweets as they want, but I also think it should be an option to block people from viewing some of your tweets. I know that I’ve lost followers because of excessive replies – I love to converse and interact with people frequently on Twitter, so I am very happy they took this feature away.

    However, I think Twitter made a bad move removing a feature that allowed each user to customize his experience. They really should have added features (such as the @ reply broadcast opt-out) rather than taken them away.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to happen. Wasn’t the reason Twitter removed these options due to performance issues? I highly doubt they will implement something like the @ reply opt-out – seems as if it will make the system more complex.

    There are so many things that could make Twitter so much better and more flexible. I guess we just have to put up with the way things are and wait to see if they change or build something better ourselves.

    Comment by Lindsey — May 18, 2009 @ 7:22 pm
  19. “You say you only want the option to turn it off, which you had before, but don’t think others should have the option to turn it on. Sounds like some serious double standards to me.”

    Sounds like some serious misunderstanding and twisting around of what I wrote to me, but whatever. I think you should be able to turn on whatever the hell you want, but I don’t think you should be able to turn on my entire feed inlcuding all of my @ replies to people you don’t even follow, if I don’t want you to. People who want to share all of their @ replies with you should still be able to do so. Why do you want to force people to share on their main feed what they’d rather not? Oh wait, I forgot, I don’t know how Twitter works and I’m doing it all wrong. Sorry, but telling me I’m doing it wrong and talking to me like I’m stupid doesn’t do anything to support your point as to why I should be forced to have all my @ replies turned on.

    Bottom line is that regardless of how public Twitter is, I still don’t see what the problem is with allowing people to choose what they want to have made part of their main feed. If Twitter really is like a lecture/loudspeaker scenerio as you described it, then there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to turn the loud speaker off for a second in order to have a sideline conversation with someone which everone else listening to the main lecture doesn’t need to hear. I shouldn’t have to send every single reply I make as a private Direct Message simply because it’s kind of mundane and I don’t want it cluttering up my feed or because I don’t want 700 people seeing it on their homepage. I actually totally agree with this lecture scenario and I think it’s a perfect example to show why it’s even more important and more useful to give people more control over what they broadcast. It’s my show, I should be able to produce it and present it they way I want it to be seen.

    I honestly don’t understand what your problem is with allowing the end user to have more control over how they wish to use their own Twitter feed. If it truly is a broadcast system, I should be allowed to broadcast to my entire audience only what I want to without being forced to have a private account.

    Comment by Foodeater — May 18, 2009 @ 8:08 pm
  20. Foodeater- Actually I’ve been arguing for more options. We had more options that were taken away from us with this update. More options are good. I made the case with this post that we had options that now we don’t have and that is a problem. You stated you were glad people didn’t have those options anymore.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — May 19, 2009 @ 1:06 am
  21. Well, while I did say that I was glad that this has been removed (at least from my account) I also stated from my very first comment that what I wanted to see was a simple opt-in/opt-out choice… not less options. I’ve made that same point with each return comment, emphatically as a matter of fact :)

    I have no problem with people being able to choose to leave all the @ replies turned on and I have no problem with people like you reading them if you want. I’m only asking for the “right” to not be involved without being forced to keep a private profile. To go back to what I said at the start, a simple choice would easily satisfy both approaches and provide a middle ground that doesn’t deprive anyone of anything.

    Comment by Foodeater — May 19, 2009 @ 3:29 am
  22. […] changed the way it displayed replies and not everyone was happy with it, myself included. I wrote a post about my thoughts on the subject, trying to make the case why I thought the move was a bad one, and how I preferred […]

    Pingback by Follow up about #fixreplies | sbdc — June 19, 2009 @ 9:01 am

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