Friday, July 19, 2024

Twitter Offers Mea Culpa over ‘Replies’

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Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has tried to lay to rest the recent controversy over a change to a feature on the popular microblogging site, penning an apologetic blog post telling users that he mishandled the affair.

“We screwed up from a communications perspective this week,” Stone wrote.

The disputed change involved the way people’s replies showed up in Twitter feeds. Previously, users had the ability to monitor responses from someone they were following to someone they weren’t. Twitter shut off that option on Tuesday night, calling it “undesirable and confusing.”

Angry users quickly began flooding Twitter with the complaints, and memes like #fixreplies and #Twitterfail rose to the trending topics on the site.

The next day, Twitter capitulated in part, saying it planned to develop new ways to allow users to follow replies, giving them the ability to control the snippets of conversations appearing in their feed on a per-user basis.

In his latest missive, titled “The Replies Kerfuffle,” Stone offers some insight into the company’s thinking. In part, he said that his mistake was rushing to put up the initial blog post about the change without fully understanding what was happening.

Twitter’s engineers had determined that the change was urgently needed from a technical standpoint, which Stone didn’t mention in his first post. Instead, he focused on the product side of the issue. In telling users that Twitter had decided to remove a feature that it decided was unpopular, Stone came across a heavy-handed autocrat to those who liked the replies option.

In his latest, conciliatory post, Stone sticks by the unpopularity of the feature, noting at three separate points that only 3 percent of Twitter users turned the option on.

But if there is anything to be learned from the lessons of some of Facebook’s controversies, it may be that the social media world is routinely overshadowed by highly engaged, vocal minorities.

Despite the scant number of users who had the now-defunct reply setting enabled, Stone said that the feature created a disproportionate strain on Twitter’s servers.

“Every time someone wrote a reply Twitter had to check and see what each of their followers’ reply setting was and then manifest that tweet accordingly in their timeline — this was the most expensive work the database was doing and it was causing other features to degrade,” Stone said.

On the product-design side, Stone said that many users were unclear about what the feature entailed, so they would enable the setting and then become confused about why partial messages were showing up on their home page.

Stone said Twitter has been receiving complaints about the feature since last year.

So Twitter’s engineering team is getting to work on developing a new set of reply features that aim to eliminate the confusion by giving more nuanced control over what snippets of conversations show up, and mitigating the technical issues that evidently hastened the removal of the original feature.

From a public-relations perspective, Stone concluded his post with a mea culpa suggesting the company will be more forthright in the way it handles changes to the site going forward.

“Hopefully, this clears things up a bit and I promise to be less distracted and hasty when it comes to blog posts,” he wrote.

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