While Twitter fiddled, their users burned – lessons learned

Twitter, in fiddling around with their @ replies notification setting, created a firestorm of outrage among the known twitterverse manifesting itself into to hash mark campaigns entitled ‘#fixreplies‘ and ‘#twitterfail‘ respectively.

Twitter Support: how to change your reply settings

Their explanation for this ‘Small Settings Update‘ that removes the @ Replies Notification Setting completely?

We’ve updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback …

… 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.

I’m not buying this as it is the the 2nd time in 2 years the folks at Twitter have attempted to remove a feature that clearly is part of the average Twitter User eXperience and expectation.

So what’s the big deal?

Why is the Twitterati up in arms? I think usability expert Jeffrey Zeldman summed it up best with his retweet (RT) that reads:

“RT self: Discovering people, topics, and conversations through friends’ @ replies was one of the joys of Twitter. #fixreplies

Here are two real-world use cases in which I’d offer in support of Zeldman’s popular assertion:

  1. Back in August of 2008 I was kvetching about some ASP.NEt anomolies when I got a pithy reply from an @jerobins whom I wasn’t following – well wasn’t following until I found out he and I shared a passion for or code, our kids and our neighborhoods which were only a mile or two apart.
  2. Similarly, back in November of 2008 I offered a #deanlink. I got a reply from @timbert of Belgium that the web services testing tool I found useful was just what he needed! Such words of encouragement are … well encouring that my #deanlink tweets are indeed useful to others.

So what’s my point?

So what has the whole dust up over Twitter’s @ Replies Notification Setting have to do with the daily operation of our church and/or charity website?

Glad you asked.

I’m currently in the process of sorting out the fairly consistent stream of email I’ve received recently regarding web site do-overs and/or content ‘manglement’ tools.

As some loyal cult members might guess, I’m going to reply with some solid, tangible technical solutions – but only after first preaching the tenets of understanding who your websites’ visitors are and what they’re seeking to accomplish.

Meaning, before I render judgment on WordPress, ExpressionEngine, drupal, Joomla, MovableType, TypePad, Blogger, and/or any other means of managing a church and/or charity website on the cheap …

I am first going to provide some practical steps in getting information about those consuming your online services that in some cases include … wait for it … making actual contact with actual human beings about how they actually use your website.

I suspect the folks at Twitter could have and should engaged the same … though the skeptical me speculating that either that if indeed the folks at Twitter were aware of said actual usage (as I suspect they are), then they are trying to modify user behavior to …

… take your pick, as this is all just wild speculation on my part.

The bottom line?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

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