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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.