Update: Turns out this is a rare case — for the ever-changing, A/B testing Twitter — of ‘it’s a bug not a feature’. TechCrunch understands the overlay should only be appearing for new users, not in the inboxes of multi-year veterans. So although Twitter is promoting its DM any follower feature, it’s only pushing this to newbies. Original story follows below.
Twitter’s push to expand its appeal and bump up usage of existing features often sees the company tweak its layout or shuffle feature furniture around in A/B tests.
The latest bit of tweaking, currently appearing sporadically on a few TechCrunch users’ Twitter accounts, is a promo that appears in the messages window on the Twitter desktop client, temporarily replacing any existing missives in your inbox.
The promo reminds users of a feature the company launched in October last year — enabling the sending of private messages to anyone who is following you, without you having to follow them back. It’s unclear why Twitter is seeing fit to nag users about this feature now. Presumably it’s hoping to encourage more private messaging, or more engagement on Twitter generally.
The promo overlay urges users to “Start a private conversation with anyone who follows you”, and includes a selection of follower accounts directly underneath, so could potentially be used as a space to promote specific accounts — given it’s relatively prime real estate, as it’s the place a Twitter web client user clicks if they want to go read their private messages. But instead of seeing those, they sometimes get this promo instead. Which is, frankly, pretty annoying.
Another unwelcome recent change to Twitter is the far more drastic decision to inject tweets into users’ streams from accounts they don’t follow — thereby eroding the fundamental usefulness of a service powered by human filters by polluting specifically selected signals with algorithmically generated noise.
Why so fickle Twitter? The company is evidently continuing to feel the pressure when it comes to slowing user growth in a fiercely competitive space. Earlier this week Facebook-owned social photo sharing service Instagram, which competes with Twitter in both social messaging stakes and also in photo sharing, surpassed the latter’s monthly active user count, reporting more than 300 million MAUs vs Twitter’s last count of around 284 million.
Onboarding new users and signposting existing features to try to drive more usage — such as with this promo overlay — are clear priorities for Twitter right now. On the former front the company announced another new feature, called Instant timeline, in November to try to make it easier for Twitter noobs to get started.