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#fixreplies #twitterfail – 4 lessons to learn

May 13, 2009 2 Comments

Twitter has rolled out a seemingly minor change to how it works - you can no longer see @messages someone you follow sends to someone you don't follow. The Guardian explains it here (and there's a good analysis here).

@EV's message - the only response so far ...

@EV's message - the only response so far ...

It's kind of annoying as seeing who people talk to is a good way to find others to follow - and it's provoked the usual firestorm of tweets.

But what lessons can we learn? Here are 4.

1 Don't make invisible functional changes

If A (who I follow) sent a @ message to B (who I don't), I used to see it. Now I don't.

How will I realise there has been a change - I'll just think that A hasn't sent a message to B?

Instead ...

If you change the functionality of a site /or application, make sure you tell people so that they know how it's different.

This is especially important if the new functionality (not seeing a @message) looks identical to a case of the old functionality (no message being sent).

2 When you make changes, have a communications plan

A minority of people often won't like any redesign or change. It's usually a good idea to manage them through a change.

Twitter posted something on its blog after it happened. This is not a good communications plan.

Communication should not happen on a blog that no one is likely to look at.

A better plan

A good plan would have been to pre-announce the change, giving people notice of what's coming and explaining the benefits. And to do the communication where people are looking - perhaps Twitter should email about functional changes or put an obvious notice on a Twitter page.

This might even have meant Twitter could have forestalled the whole thing by seeing the reaction to the change BEFORE making it.

3 When there's criticism, engage with it. Quickly.

Despite all the complaining, there's no update on Twitter's blog. There's no update on the @twitter account. Instead, there are two tweets on the Twitter CEO's account (@EV):

One says this: "@drew Duly noted. I blogged about it a year ago to get feedback, actually (link). Yes, that's probably too long ago." The irony of this is that under the new system, @EV's followers only saw this if they also followed @drew.

The other said: "Reading people's thoughts on the replies issue. We're considering alternatives. Thanks for your feedback."

That was 6 hours ago. I thought Twitter was about the real time ...

A better idea ...

Some more sensible suggestions would have been to open up comments on the blog, use the proper @twitter account (which has more followers than @ev) and to send a few more tweets.

4 Give users options

I liked the old system. If you're going to make a functional change, why not allow them to stick with the old system it they choose?

If you think the new setup  is better, you can default them to it. But let them change it back if they want.

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  • @dohpaz42 says:

    What do they care? It's a "free service". "Free services" can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and never have to answer for their decisions. It's a sad and archaic mentality that seems to spread faster than any animal-variation of the flu.

  • Twitter has to be careful not to change the way they work too much, I've all but given up using Facebook after they started to change the way it worked ... don't fix it if it isn't broken.

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