Twitter Learns a Valuable Lesson…We Hope

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The Great Google Depression of 2009 Happened Thursday, May 14, at 7:48am PST

twitter-fail-whale-300x225Yesterday might have been worth writing on the Twitter calendar as the worst day in Twitstory.  So far, anyway.  With the way this company faux’s like Biden at a press conference, it’s only a matter of time and opportunity for it to happen again.

Here’s the run-down on events: Twitter takes away a feature, the Twitterverse goes ballistic and hashes like #bringbacktheat and #fixittwit get popular, then Twitter brings a halfway solution for the feature back, the press has a field day ripping Twitter apart, and then Twitter posts a blog to make it all better.  All while the service has its usual up-and-down time throughout the day.

Honestly, we’re getting used to spotty service connections from Twitter now–it’s part of the little app’s ambiance. Nothing says “Twitaholic” like sending a Tweet to say that Twitter is down.  Really, the lag and spotty down-time is sort of like Twitter’s Marilyn Monroe beauty mark.  Think about it.

Anyway, back on subject.  So the change that caused all this grief was the way replies were handled.  Before the change, everything you typed into Twitter and sent went to everyone on your list (unless it was a direct message).  So if someone sent you something and you replied, your reply (along with that person’s @ddress) went out to all of your followers.

Twitter changed that so that those not following the person you replied to wouldn’t receive the reply.  In an obvious way, this makes sense.  Threaded conversations are already a problem on Twitter and seeing only half of one makes life difficult if you hope to keep up with what’s being said.  On the other hand, it turns out, a lot of people used those replies to click and check out the person they don’t know (the @name).  This lead to community networking.

Here’s the really strange part: you had the option in your Twitter settings to set this for yourself and the auto-seeing of replies to people you don’t follow was just the default.  Twitter was really removing an option.  Nobody likes that.

Any Web developer with any experience will tell you: people love options and if you take away their choices, they get angry.  Twitter has now learned that the hard way.

On Twitter’s side of the story, though, the questions get tougher.  First, they claim that the change was because of some technical reasons that the setting had to be rebuilt or scrapped.  This, after the company had waffled about the situation to start with.  The final blog post from Twitter on the subject was a capitulation to angry Tweeps.

TechCrunch makes a lot of good points on why this was handled badly, how it should have (probably) been handled, and what Twitter should have known from recent events involving Facebook and others.  I agree with them.

Definitely one of the worst 24 hours in Twitter’s history… so far.  One thing about Twitter is for sure: they’ve certainly proven themselves to be capable of dropping the bowling ball on their own foot repeatedly.  Usually in public too.


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