Twitter's @Reply change sparks a revolt. Is Big Twitter watching?

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A couple of hours ago I registered my disappointment with Twitter’s latest change to the way @ replies work. (The short story is that now you won’t see conversations between someone you follow and someone they are @replying to, that you don’t follow – which substantially affects your ability to find new and interesting people to follow).

Here’s what I tweeted:

I then moved on. But so far that tweet has now been Re-Tweeted over 60 times and counting. Now, I know I have over 9,500 followers. However, 60 in a short space of time is a lot of re-tweets for anything. Can we conclude that a lot of people don’t like the change to the way Twitter works? I think we can – the fact that the #fixreplies and #twitterfail have been the top trending topics on Twitter for a whole day speaks volumes.

Others (namely @IanBetteridge ) argue, pretty convincingly, that this will be a good thing for Twitter and clean up all those messy conversations between people you don’t know. I disagree. I argue that the haphazard discovery of people’s networks is what made Twitter great. Even Facebook allows us to see conversation between people we don’t know. On Twitter – if they don’t reverse their decision – it will be much harder.

And it’s the content of the conversations that is most important. I can surf other people’s profile pages and see who they follow – that is all very well. But there is no context to that relationship and that’s what the conversation allows me to see. By focusing on the content of people’s characters (their thoughts – but how long will it be before we just call them Tweets?), Twitter came up with an entirely new kind of social network.

Is is a huge shame that Twitter has now removed the switch allowing us to see “all replies”, and is bound to affect their model, at least amongst power users. It may even affect their traffic – half the reason people are on Twitter is to see who their friends are talking to – it’s only human nature.

Yes, they could well come up with a more structured way for us to follow conversations, but for now, the serendipitous delight of it all has gone. It seems we just aren’t adult enough to make our own decision on this, so “Big Twitter” is making it for us.

  • Andrew Chalkley

    @replies were created by the community – it evolved out of it.

    They committed genocide!

  • Jonathan Hopkins

    Nice post Mike. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the last sentence. There’s definitely a feeling of ownership there from the Twitter community and people feel like hey should be part of the decision. I know I keep banging on about it – but whilst asking us about details like this, Twitter should also just ask us if we would be willing to pay too. They might be surprised . . .

  • Tim

    I agree that users should have the choice, although personally I never used this noisy feature.

    Did they do this to cut down on their traffic? Its fairly obvious that Twitter can barely handle its own load.

    • Tim

      I suppose I meant [traffic] in terms of less data going to less feeds. What other reason could they have for removing what was already an optional feature?

  • Andy Lawless

    Do you really think it will affect traffic though? Despite the fact that twitter users are up in arms about the changes, I’d hazard a guess that it won’t have any significant impact on the number of people who stay faithful to the system.

    Are there any figures/estimates about users abandoning facebook after their recent much-criticised changes, for example?

  • Simon Sanders

    Agree. Why not just give people the choice to either opt-in to the ‘serendipitous delight’ of it all – or opt-out of what might be seen as irrelevant channel noise. I don’t think many users bothered checking that they could have opted-out of @replies to ‘random’ people – but that’s not hard to correct with a “TIP: did you know etc” type message. Anyway just because some people don’t RTFM is no reason to dull down the features…

  • Offbeatmammal

    really seems like something they should leave to use choice.

    I’ve discovered some great folks on twitter by curiously following an @reply and being delighted with what I found

    I’d like to see an option to hide @replies to people who block their tweets so you won’t be able to see them (or at least get a warning) as that bugs me

  • Liz

    I’m becoming doubtful about what a technological hurdle this setting really was especially considering that Twitter is in the process of adding in more features.

    More people are protesting this than those who actually chose this setting because it was one of the few ways you could exercise some control on Twitter which is pretty inflexible. Taking away the ability to choose what you receive is more infuriating than Twitter lacking certain features.

    I think Twitter’s creators want it to be as ubiquitous and functional as plumbing. And it’s going to be just as exciting.

  • Lisa Devaney

    I probably wouldn’t be following @mikebutcher if I didn’t see you reply to someone else I was following. Hope Twitter goes back to the old way, like the discovery process of it all.

  • James Cherkoff

    Strangely the @all replies still works on Twitter feeds published into FriendFeed.

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