Twitter: The Dog Ate Our Homework

dog-ate-my-homeworkWow. Twitter has responded yet again to the whole @replies fiasco (that’s now four posts for those keeping score at home). Once again, this one is juicy. To be frank, this is exactly the post Twitter should have put up from the get-go. But it didn’t, and that led to this whole mess.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone leads off by talking about the confusion among users about the change that was actually made. This was of course entirely Twitter’s fault and Stone doesn’t back away from that. “I did not do my homework,” he says, and noting the company screwed up from a communications perspective. True.

Stone then goes into what exactly the problem is, and it’s two-fold: First from a product design perspective, the @replies system never really made sense for people you don’t follow. While the default setting was to have this feature off, some 3% of users turned it on, but at times would be confused about it. The second problem remains the more pressing one: The 3% of users who did turn this on were straining Twitter’s servers. This is because every time someone would @reply someone else, Twitter had to scan the entire system to see who had what setting turned on to see which update to place in which timeline. Makes sense.

It’s still not entirely clear what Twitter’s solution for this is going forward. Stone notes that “we cannot turn this setting back on in its original form for technical reasons and we won’t rebuild it exactly the same for product design reasons.” But he does say that the use cases people loved about the feature will be returning “new and improved.” That seems to suggest an entirely new feature (option 2 from the Twitter post yesterday).

I’m still concerned that this new feature will complicate Twitter in a Facebook-style way, but we’ll see. At least they’re saying the right things today. Even if I’m not entirely convinced that by Stone saying he didn’t do his homework on the technical side, he’s not more or less using the old “the dog ate my homework” excuse for Twitter as a whole here.