Fixing the Twitter Reply Black Hole

Filed as Guides on June 26, 2009 4:51 pm

Twitter is more than just status updates

Twitter is more than just status updates

It seems from talking to lots of people there is still some considerable confusion around how Twitter @replies work. The problem is that @replies are a vital part of Twitter, they make it more about discussion than “status updates”.

The Twitter folks have never had a comfortable relationship with using Twitter for discussion. In fact @Replies took a while to come to the service, they were a community invention, then third party tools included buttons and tools to make it easier, and finally Twitter gave in to pressure and added support.

As you can see at the Twitter Blog even back last year they were worried about replies appearing in public streams …

We’re trying to avoid the situation of you hearing someone answer a question when you didn’t hear the question (for instance). Also, you don’t have to hear answers to the question from people you don’t want to hear from. (If you’re not following them, you won’t see their answer.)

They made it so you had to opt-in to all replies. In the end, they took away this ability altogether.

Twitter’s logic is quite compelling, until you realize that some people, me included, like to see discussion with people I am not following! It was a key way that I found new people to follow. If someone I was watching sent an interesting response to someone I did not know, I would hit the “in reply to” link in TweetDeck to get context. This was a key way I found new people to follow, and I miss it.

There is a workaround, but not for followers, it has to be initiated by the Tweeter. Twitter shows any tweet that does not start with @ to all of your followers. So if you want your reply to be seen by the recipient and everyone else, start with a character other than @. For example:

Yes @chrisgarrett Twitter SHOULD fix their reply system

Do you agree that Twitter made a mistake with this change or do you prefer to only see replies to people you are already following? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. By Richard - Accessible Web Testing and Design posted on June 26, 2009 at 5:03 pm
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    I don’t know if it has changed recently but my experience (including today) is that replies with @ as the first character ARE visible to my other followers. What say you Chris?

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  2. By Richard - Accessible Web Testing and Design posted on June 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm
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    Although I think that my comment above only applies to any of my followers who are also following the person I replied to. Does that make sense?

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  3. By Kim posted on June 26, 2009 at 6:05 pm
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    I agree – being able to see conversations between someone I follow and someone I wasn’t following was how I learned about new things and found other interesting people that I could follow (I had my settings to see all @ replies). Twitter’s work-around (begin your tweet with a word, not the other person’s name) does allow those replies to be seen by everyone, but it breaks Twitter’s built-in reply threading, making it more difficult to follow a conversation all the way through.

    I found a partial work-around by using @troynt’s Twitter Script, as it displays the threaded conversation, but that can only be used with the Twitter web interface. Anyone using a third-party app, like TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop, is still out of luck.

    I think that Twitter users have moved in a different direction with how they use Twitter (conversations with other users, etc.) versus how @ev and company intended for it to be used. Twitter, you need to evolve and provide the service that your userbase wants or they’ll find another service that will.

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  4. By Chris Garrett posted on June 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm
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    Yes I don’t think @ev and co realize what a monster they created :)

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  5. By Doug Hudiburg posted on June 27, 2009 at 1:26 am
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    I agree, I miss the old approach to @ replies. I like to see who the people I follow are interacting with — even if I only see one side of the conversation. I found some great people to follow this way.

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  6. By j.ann posted on June 27, 2009 at 8:54 am
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    It’s not too important, in my opinion. When I first joined Twitter, it was set to no @replies by default. I only changed it after months, just to see if I’d like it.

    Turns out it did, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I started using PeopleBrowsr to check out my Twitterstream when not at my main computer! It shows all those @replies that others make to those I don’t follow, and it’s been really cool to have that back again! I wish they’d bring back the option so I can turn it back on again. :(

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  7. By Lawrence C. posted on June 28, 2009 at 11:37 pm
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    Agreed.

    And Twitter has amazing – even unforeseen – potential, with its ease of use (at least with a client, like TweetDeck), simplicity, flexiblity, and ability to easily slip on and off and adjusted on a mobile device on the fly.

    Kim, above, EXCELLENT POINT: “I think that Twitter users have moved in a different direction with how they use Twitter (conversations with other users, etc.) versus how @ev and company intended for it to be used. Twitter, you need to evolve and provide the service that your userbase wants or they’ll find another service that will.”

    Reply

  8. By Janet Barclay posted on June 29, 2009 at 12:26 am
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    When they made this change, I noticed right away that there were fewer tweets in my stream. Although it made it easier to stay on top of things, I did miss the feature because, like many others, I found it a good way to find other interesting tweeps to follow.

    Thanks for pointing out that we need only enter text before the user name to make it appear to people not following that user. I’ll try to remember that going forward!

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  9. By johny2shoes posted on June 29, 2009 at 2:13 am
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    I did not realize until reading this post that was how it worked, i`m going to be using this with twitter now, as i like to read conversations and not just one way.

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  10. By Beej posted on June 29, 2009 at 9:03 am
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    I personally find that adding a hashtag to an @reply is one of the best ways to find new followers and to follow other people. Most hashtag tweets people make to the air are boring, but if they’re to another person, then they become much more interesting and worth checking out the entire conversation.

    It’s voyeuristic, sure, but it’s how I find a lot of people to follow.

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  11. By Robert Rowe posted on June 29, 2009 at 9:24 am
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    Users had a choice of seeing replies made to people they also follow (which was the default), no replies, or all replies. According to @ev, very few people chose to see all (I was one of them).
    I don’t understand completely, why they changed how it works, but instead of complaining, I made it work for me. If primarily want the person I’m replying to to see the Tweet, I keep them at the beginning. If I think others would want to chime in, however, I use the @ after my question.

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  12. By Christina posted on August 18, 2009 at 4:06 pm
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    I agree – I’m new to Twitter and didn’t know the old option, but have definitely missed the option of seing my friends’ @s. It has acctually annoied me so much that it is one of my reasons for not finding Twitter as usefull as expected.

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  13. By draedpd posted on November 13, 2009 at 6:14 pm
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    You should subscribe to Plurk. There conversations are neatly ordered in separate threads and you see all participants in a conversation wether you are subscribed or not. If you visit someone you are not following, it’s the same, you see everybody’s messages.

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