Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Does Twitter Really Understand How We Use Twitter?

Twitter made a small settings update yesterday that is not going over well in the twitterverse. Twitter has updated its settings to "better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies." They believe that we only want to see replies between people we are following, and that replies to people we're not following should be hidden.

This is a Horrible Idea

Well, maybe not horrible, but didn't we learn anything from Facebook's recent fiasco? For me and many other Twitter users, replies are one of the best ways to discover new people you might want to follow. That's a big part of the secret sauce behind Twitter. It's a rapid fire word-of-mouth platform that helps us discover the interconnectedness between all of us. I have personally met dozens of new, interesting people as a result of catching a thread between somebody I follow, and somebody I don't follow.

I can't imagine that this move has anything to do with "usage patterns" or any real "user feedback" beyond the walls of Twitter's headquarters. Based on the response on Twitter (#fixreplies and #twitterfail are top trending topics as of this post - both focused on rolling back this change), it's obvious that a lot of us do not consider "one-sided fragments" to be "undesireable". If anything, this is one of the most exciting things about Twitter.

Now Twitter hasn't completely killed the ability to discover new people through your stream, you'll still be able to see references to others - which partially satisfies my needs. But what's really behind the change?

I have a feeling this change has something to do with the algorithm work Twitter is working on behind the scenes. If you're not following both people, you're not in the conversation, therefore having less relevancy than somebody that has both people in their network. But this is just a wild guess. Maybe Twitter really does believe this is a good thing for your Twitter stream.

At the end of the day, how much can I really complain about this? As Matt Asay points out in his latest post, "Twitter's @replies Change Suggests Viable Business Model", Twitter provides a valuable service for free. If we're not paying for the service, do we really have a right to complain about changes to the features. Of course, looking at it another way - and an equally valid open source argument - what would Twitter be worth if it didn't have all of us as users?

In the absence of any meaningful revenue, Twitter's biggest asset is its users. If we want to see one-sided conversations in our tweetstream, so be it. If some users don't like this, give us an on/off switch in the preferences, don't just pull the plug.

What do you think, does Twitter really understand how we use Twitter?

(Photo: walknboston)

No comments: