Twitter recants — crisis averted?


What Twitter described as a “small settings update” was anything but. Darn near cataclysmic, it seemed.

The popular microblogging site has now said it is implementing changes to bring back the “serendipity” of discovering what the people you follow are saying to the people you don’t, which it so egregiously snatched away Tuesday night.

Here’s how Twitter’s Biz Stone explained the initial change in the company blog:

“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.”

So that meant that messages someone you know sends to someone you don’t wouldn’t show up in your feed anymore.

The outrage was swift and severe. A day later, the meme “#fixreplies remains at the top of Twitter’s trending topics list. Farther down is “#Twitterfail. Both are packed with tweets from users obeying the call to “Retweet this if you disagree w/ twitter’s decision to hide replies to people you don’t follow.” So is the topic, “Twitter’s,” which sits at No. 2 on the list.

Well, earlier today, Stone put up a post, “Whoa, Feedback!” promising the pitchfork-wielding mob that the Twitter team was aware that they were upset, but that the change was necessary for “serious technical reasons.”

“It wouldn’t have lasted long even if we thought it was the best thing ever,” Stone said.

Four hours later, Stone put up another post, “We Learned A Lot,” telling users that their feedback made it painfully clear that a great many people loved the feature. But the engineering problems remained, so Stone offered this as an olive branch:

“First, we’re making a change such that any updates beginning with @username (that are not explicitly created by clicking on the reply icon) will be seen by everyone following that account. This will bring back some serendipity and discovery and we can do this very soon.

“Second, we’ve started designing a new feature which will give folks far more control over what they see from the accounts they follow. This will be a per-user setting and it will take a bit longer to put together but not too long and we’re already working on it. Thanks for all the great feedback and thanks for helping us discover what’s important!”

This episode has drawn some unsurprising comparisons to Facebook, the site that users love to death right up until something about it changes. Privacy, design, terms of service … you name it. If it changed, they let ’em have it. And, in some cases, Facebook bowed to the pressure after the initial period of stonewalling failed to silence the critics.

So what do we think in Twitter’s case? Crisis averted, or first of many?

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