Twitter's latest blog post titled Small Settings Update states the following:

We've updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we've learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it's a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don't follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today's update removes this undesirable and confusing option.

In other words, before this change you simply saw all tweets posted by the people you followed.  Twitter has decided that that was too complicated.  So instead, now you will only see tweets posted by people you follow if they are not replies to people you don't follow…unless the tweet doesn't begin with "@userwhoyoudontfollow", in which case you will still see the tweet since it's not really a "reply", but a "mention".  There, much better!  Thanks for clearing that up Twitter!

I honestly don't understand the motivation behind this change.  From my perspective, the less tweets I see, the less valuable Twitter is to me as a conversation and communication service.  I'm not sure what problem they were trying to address here, but judging from the initial response on Twitter there's obviously a disconnect between how Twitter thinks its users use it and how they actually use it.

Luckily there is a workaround.  

Later in the Twitter blog post, they reveal that "discovery" is still possible:

Spotting new folks in tweets is an interesting way to check out new profiles and find new people to follow. Despite this update, you'll still see mentions or references linking to people you don't follow. For example, you'll continue to see, "Ev meeting with @biz about work stuff" even if you don't follow @biz. We'll be introducing better ways to discover and follow interesting accounts as we release more features in this space.

In other words, while replies to people you don't follow are now hidden from you, tweets that only "mention" people you don't follow are still visible.

Let's say I am following user A but not user B.  Twitter's latest change makes it so that I won't see user A's tweet "@userB Let's go to the park!".  However, if user A only "mentions" user B in their tweet: "I'm going to the park with @userB", then I can still see it.   

So, if you want to make sure your replies are visible to all of your followers, just make sure your replies are actually "mentions" by prefixing them with a character. Expanding on the user A / user B example above, if user A changed their tweet to read "! @userB Let's go to the park!", I'd be able to see it again since it didn't start with "@userB".  It's a silly hack, but then again it's a silly feature too so I don't feel too bad using it.

I'm hoping that this was just a temporary brain fart on Twitter's part and that it will soon be fixed or that there is some hidden benefit to this feature that I'm missing.  What do you think about Twitter's "Small Settings Update"? 

Edit 5/13/2009:

Due to user feedback, Twitter has decided to change how replies work again.  Now, you should be able to see @user replies again, regardless of where the @user is placed…unless the reply was generated by clicking on the "reply" link, in which case it's still invisible.  It's really amazing how many different, but equally infuriating, ways Twitter can come up with to solve this problem.  They have also went against their original claim that this was changed for simplicity sake and now admit that the change was done because of architectural limitations.

13 responses to Twitter’s “Small Settings Update” Is Anything But

  1. Al Gonzalez said:

    IMO, this is just a wrong-headed change. One of the best ways to find new and interesting people to follow is from these one-sided fragments that catch your eye. Once you spot a reply of interest just click on the person you don’t follow, figure out the conversation and then, if the mood strikes, you follow them.

  2. marilove said:

    And what if I tweet: @dev and I frolicked in the park today! It’s NOT A REPLY, but a mention!

    This is b.s.

  3. rick said:

    Al: I agree. I liked the older behavior, even if it was busted when people replied to other people with the privacy bit enabled.

  4. knowtheory said:

    Yeh, with Rick on this.

    The other key is that you at least [b]know[/b] that a conversation is taking place, even if you can only see part of it. If you want to see the other half, you can at least find out about it then. Seeing parts of conversations are a really important way to find out what’s going on.

    This is a blunder.

  5. I agree.

    Could this change be for those users that follow insanely large numbers of people thinking that following someone is the equivalent of friending on facebook? I can imagine them being a vocal minority.

  6. Allister said:

    From what I’ve read on other sites, there used to be a setting to allow this behaviour anyway. Why didn’t they just promote that setting?

  7. matt said:

    I like the change. Replies to people I don’t follow are conversations I don’t need to follow.

  8. AndrewO said:

    Good solution. I’m not as negative on this as you (and a lot of people) are. I think your exclamation hack combined with this behavior is a good way to control "loudness" on Twitter.

    I wouldn’t even call it a hack though. Let’s not forget that "@", "OH", "RT", hash-tags, and all of the other twitterisms we use today are emergent developments. "! @foo" could be next. (Although I like "¡" a little better :).

  9. Al Gonzalez said:

    Matt: as Allister said, there was a setting to do this anyway so why take away a feature and force users into a single way of using the twitter. Different strokes and all.

  10. AndrewO said:

    @Al: I think there is something to be said for streamlining options. It can simplify things both for the user and the programmer.

    For my part, I was inclined to drink from the fire-hose. It never even occurred to me to turn it off and the amount of uninteresting traffic I was getting was starting to impact my enjoyment of Twitter. I don’t think having this feature on by default would have been an option either: users like to customize and tinker even if the end results are sometimes worse.

    But I do see your point: once you introduce a feature, it’s hard to take it back.

  11. Al Gonzalez said:

    @AndrewO: They could have introduced a simple mode without any choices and an expert mode for those that prefer more choices.

    In your case, you say you like to customize but didn’t like the results — sorry at least you have the option to fix it. With the new change I don’t like the results and can’t change it.

  12. Ian said:

    Interesting, I can certainly see how the twitter community would be divided on this point. There are good arguments both ways. I personally don’t usually end up finding new people through fragmented conversations, but I can definitely see how some people would. I guess from a user’s standpoint I think making it a big option in the main twitter view would make sense, but whatever. Ultimately it just means that more twitter memes will develop to work around it and add to the random culture of the twitterverse ;)

  13. Dan said:

    I think twitter has so many people used to their specific way of writing messages, it is stupid for them to change it. All it will do is confuse people, and for what benefit? I’m glad they decided not to stick with their original update… it’s one less thing I need to remember.