Twitter replies

13May09

Well, at least Twitter hears:  Twitter Blog: Whoa, Feedback!. As you can see over there, they’ve heard loud and clear the message coming from everywhere (including my previous posting, though I’m only a snowflake in the avalanche).

What’s very weird, though, is that Twitter still has not offered any explanation as to why they made the change. It appears to me that they really hadn’t realized the value of the feature they removed (discovery of “interesting people”). That seems odd, but then again they’ve always seemed to have a very guarded attitude toward the feature. Even on the configuration page, I seem to recall it was described very negatively. (I’d go get an exact quote, but it’s gone now!)

What they’ve said in explanation seems to be confined to that one blog post, and what it says is (1) “technical reasons” and (2) “scalable.” The first contains no details. The second seems, if anything, counter-intuitive: the behavior that used to be default, and is now mandatory, seems to me far less “scalable” than the behavior they now do not provide (for which I will now coin the name “my way” 😉

My way is: “show me anything said by this person.” Very simple.

The other way is: “find everything said by this person. Consider whether it’s a reply. If it’s a reply, check whether I’m also following the addressee. If so, show me.” That’s two dips into my follow list, or in database terms two joins to the same table. It happens my company runs a highly scalable web service, and those words “two joins to the same table” scare me to death!

Maybe they’re concerned about the number of messages? I have no doubt at all that this change reduced the number of messages they send out. To judge from my personal stream, I’d guess traffic was cut roughly in half. We all know the scalability challenges Twitter has had in the past. It’s been pretty stable, lately–remarkably so, for those of us who twittered through the invention of the Fail Whale–and I’m sure we all want it to stay stable. But 2x is really peanuts, in scalability land. Their traffic is probably growing 2x per week, so what, they’ve delayed apocalypse by a week?

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