Twitter Blog: We Learned A Lot

13May09

OK, this is actually pretty sweet: Twitter Blog: We Learned A Lot.

  • A response (a second response, in fact)
  • More details of the explanation (scalability, confusion)
  • A temporary compromise (more details below)
  • A statement of intent to provide a more permanent solution
  • And some words to make it clear they understand

Really, how many calls would you have to make to, say, your cable company, to get that kind of satisfaction? I dunno about you, but I have no idea how many that would be, because, let’s face it, I never ever got anything even vaguely close to that good a response from my (former) cable company. Hence, the dish on my roof. And, of course, I haven’t paid a red cent to Twitter. But I digress.

If the Twitter blog entry above doesn’t make clear to you what was, what was done, what’s been done to it, and what’s coming, then there are several other explanations on the web; this one’s nice:  (Marshall Kirkpatric / ReadWriteWeb).

Here’s my chop at it.

What Twitter have done is expand the taxonomy of tweets.

  • Originally, there were just tweets: anything you said could and would be heard by your followers.
  • Then, there were mentions: twitterers added “@username”, just as a convention to catch the eye of “username”. The tweets were still seen by the same folks, the sender’s list of followers, but “username” would perk up and take notice
  • Then, there were replies: Twitter volunteered to forward mentions to “username” even if s/he wasn’t actually following the speaker. At some point or other, this was applied only to mentions where the mention was at the beginning of the tweet. “@username right on” would get special treatment; “right on, @username” would not. Then, fairly recently, this was changed so that the mention anywhere in the tweet would get reply treatment, and even several usernames “Let’s meet at @fred ‘s house, @joe” would go to both, even if they didn’t follow.
  • Somewhere along the way, and this seems to be the development Twitter didn’t actually notice, people started noticing their friends talking to folks they didn’t know, and using that to expand their own community. A lot of us think this is the fundamental juju of Twitter.
  • The new thing, as of some time today, is this: while above, “mentions” and “replies” were the same thing (identical messages), now Twitter has a formal notion of a difference: a “mention” is made by typing the “@username” thing; a “reply” is made by clicking a button labelled “reply”. In these terms, “mentions” get wide dissemination, as always, but “replies” only go to the addressee.

This is a bit odd, as everyone acknowledges. Look at it this way: if you seem a message appear in your Twitter timeline, “@you did you see this?”, there may be no way for you to guess whether anyone else has seen it. Also odd, the explanation is something about which button you pushed, but what’s that mean? Are they changing the code in their web UI to support this? And if so, what’s the impact on the 3rd-party clients?

I’m only guessing, but I’m guessing that they actually are using something that’s already common. You may not have noticed it, because not all clients show it, but the system already supports a notion of linking tweets and replies. One way to see it, no matter what client you start with, is to go to the “status” page for the individual tweet. This (and many-but-not-all other presentations) sometimes says “in reply to <username>”. I suspect this is what Twitter refers to when they talk about messages sent by clicking a Reply button. Which would be good, in that all the clients I know of already support that (they may not show it, but the provide it).

So, I suspect: any message with “in reply to” info will only be shown to the reply-ee; other kinds of mentions will be shown to all followers of the sender (there’s still no personal option available).

Long term (again, see the blog post linked at the top of this one), Twitter promises to “ive folks far more control” via “a per-user setting,” so expect some check boxes or something, soon.

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4 Responses to “Twitter Blog: We Learned A Lot”

  1. 1 jrep

    Oh, I dunno … when parents know to check Facebook, kids will use some other means 😉

  2. With the way things are going, it’s fascinating to think of how people would behave in the future. For example, ten or twenty years in the future, parents will be Internet-savvy and will be able to check up on their kids’ tweets and Facebook status messages, I wonder how the content of those updates will change then?

  3. 3 jrep

    Thanks, Bill!

    Reviewing the article just now, in light of my experience since then, I think I should point out one additional thing: there are also such things as searches on Twitter, and all the discussion about direct-routing replies mentioned above does *not* hide the message from searches. So don’t suppose that a reply is buying you privacy, it’s not. It’s just reducing the noise for people not involved in the conversation.

  4. Excellent site, keep up the good work



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