Twitter Decides We're Not Smart Enough For @Replies, Changes Them Again

Twitter is officially getting dumbed down.

For the second time in less than two months, Twitter has changed its @reply system, this time by removing an option that has existed for many months in an effort to appease confused newcomers.

The basic premise behind the @reply system is that it allows you to create a semi-public conversation with another Twitter user. To prevent you from having to listen in to conversations you might not care about, the default setting has long been to only show these @replies if you were following both people in the conversation. And that’s the choice most people stuck with.

But there was an option to receive all @reply messages from any users you were following. This led to an increase in noise, but it also exposed you to new Twitter users and conversations that you might have otherwise missed out on. I’ve had it turned on for over a year. But apparently that option has confused too many people, so Twitter is killing it.

From the Twitter blog:

We’ve updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it’s a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today’s update removes this undesirable and confusing option.

Confused? That’s understandable and exactly why we made the update.

Gee, thanks Twitter. I didn’t realize that an option I manually activated was undesirable. Any other things I shouldn’t like that you’d like to make me aware of?

If there was anything undesirable about the old system, it was that Twitter did a poor job of explaining it, not that the functionality itself was unwanted. And given that the option was not the default and was buried under a settings menu, why would it matter anyway? If too many people are getting confused, why not simply make it more hidden (perhaps under an ‘advanced’ tab)?

In the months since Twitter has grown in mainstream appeal, and especially since it made its debut on Oprah, some of Twitter’s early adopters have expressed fear over a change in the service. With a growing number of celebrities and media presences (not to mention spammers), they worry that the service will lose its tight-knit feel. Before tonight I never paid much attention to this train of thought – after all, on Twitter, I can just follow the people I care about and ignore those I don’t. But it’s clear that Twitter is concerned with appealing to a more mainstream audience, and if that takes making a very simple service even more simple, then by golly, that’s what they’re going to do.

Update 1: Many Twitter users are up in arms about the change, voicing their complaints under the channel #fixreplies, which is currently the top trending term on Twitter.

Update 2: Twitter CEO Evan Williams just tweeted about the change: “Reading people’s thoughts on the replies issue. We’re considering alternatives. Thanks for your feedback.”