Flashback: Two Years Ago, Twitter Killed A Feature — The One They Just Added Back

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This past Thursday, Twitter rolled out a new small feature that garnered quite a bit of positive buzz. Essentially, they now allow you to see what other users see when they look at Twitter. In other words, if you click on the “Following” area in my profile, you can see the main tweet stream that I see with all the (public) tweets from people I follow. Very cool. But it’s actually not new at all.

In fact, Twitter had this feature in place two years ago. We mentioned this in passing in the post, but then I was directed to the blog post explaining why they removed it in June of 2009. It’s pretty interesting. From the post on June 4, 2009 on their Twitter Status blog:

Recently we made a change to remove the With Friends tab from user profiles. We did this after finding out that this tab was both a relatively rarely accessed as well as computationally expensive page for us to serve.

Yep. The feature was “relatively rarely accessed” by Twitter’s own standards. And it was eating up precious cycles on their taxed servers at the time.

So why bring it back now?

Well first of all, Twitter is clearly beyond their main scaling issues. Sure, they have downtime every now and then, but it’s nothing like the nightmare that it was two years ago. There would be hours seemingly everyday where the service was down or parts of it were taken offline to keep the main functionality up. This included features like the “With Friends” feature. This ended up being one of the many casualties. Other included tweet-to-IM, auto timeline updates, and yes, track.

Because of those issues back then, the building of a robust social graph was more of a secondary concern at the time. But today it’s one of the primary concerns as Twitter has had no problem adding new users, but they need a way to keep them on the service and engaged. Features like “Who To Follow” help with this, and the resurrected “See What I See” should help as well. It’s more or less a self-tutorial to show new users what Twitter can look like when you get a feed of interesting users to follow.

Considering it’s fairly buried (you have to click on a profile and then click on the “Following” link — or use the drop-down), it will still probably be “relatively rarely accessed”. But I would assume they’re figure out a way to highlight it more on the main homepage for new (or logged out) users. Perhaps that’s why they included a “Shuffle” feature as well.

Plus, again, it’s a feature that will no longer cripple Twitter, so why not include it? And it makes good on a promise made two years ago.

The reason for the aforementioned Twitter post was because a group of users were upset that Twitter killed off this feature without saying anything (specifically, the feed for the feature, which some were using to follow tweets). In response, Twitter wrote:

It’s our hope to bring back the access to these feeds at some point. But for stability reasons, we’re unable to restore them at this time. We should have done a better job explaining this up front and anticipating this problem. Apologies for this; it’s our highest priority to provide a reliable, stable service for everyone.

Two years later, mission accomplished. Well, except the feed part. But who uses feeds anymore anyway? That’s what Twitter is for.

It’s good to see Twitter in a place where they can bring back old features rather than killing ones off to stay alive.