Twitter’s Most Moronic Change: Removing @ Reply Settings

I’m furious. Absolutely astounded and ready to scream. Why? Because Twitter just announced a drastic change to their service that will forever affect how people interact with the stream. They have effectively removed all discoverability of new people to follow and connect with, thereby destroying the very element that made Twitter the powerful networking tool it has been for so many hundreds of thousands of people, myself included.

So what happened? Well today Twitter announced that due to some “confusions” they decided to completely the remove the @ reply settings and instead stick you with the very limiting default without any option to change it.

Previously Twitter settings looked like this:

By default for all users, the Replies setting was set to “Show me @ replies to the people I’m following,” meaning that any tweet prefaced with the username of someone you weren’t following would not appear in your stream. Some prefer this setting as a means to reduce the number of tweets in their stream, allowing them to only follow the conversations for which they follow both people involved. Makes sense that it’s an option, but it was never the one I had enabled.

Instead, when I first became a Twitter user almost a year and a half ago, I had selected the “Show all @ replies” setting, allowing me to discover new people whom the people I follow interact with. This is specifically how I’ve been able to grow my network to such an extent over a relatively short period of time. By learning who influences my influencers, I’ve been able to seek out more people who can have an influence on me — make new connections, learn things I might never have learned, discover crossover relationships I was never aware of.

The new design:

Now Twitter has decided to completely remove the @ replies setting and permanently filter out from the stream any @ replies to people you don’t follow. I think it’s asinine, and so do a lot of people I follow. Interestingly, you’ll also see that people are unaware of the change because they always had the default setting selected. Perhaps what Twitter really needed to do was to better educate users on the settings, NOT remove them entirely.

People’s reactions:

No, Twitter, this was NOT a “small” settings update. This was a major failure to understand a deep, longstanding value of your service. Start paying attention.

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  1. antifreeze says

    Amen. The problem wasn't the setting, it was the complete lack of a reasonable explanation of it on twitter's end. Removing the setting (which brought me tremendous value and allowed me to discussion new interesting people my friends were having conversations with) totally cripples the most valuable part of twitter for me: that discovery of the interesting.

    Bad bad bad idea twitter. Way to cripple your service.

  2. g33kgurrl says

    You're definitely preaching to the choir. This is worse than the addition of the “More” button at the bottom of the page. That made me crabby. This goes beyond making me crabby.

    Unfortunately, I don't think Biz and Ev care much about what the “little” people think. Twitter may have been built on the backs of geeks and techies, but they clearly seem to care more about catering to the Oprah's and Ashton Kutcher's and other pop-princesses of the world.

  3. says

    Guess I changed my setting when I signed up and forgot about it. It's not something I'd use, but it's surprising that they'd remove functionality like that.

  4. says

    I long ago modified my behavior to not place @ replies at the very front of a tweet if I wanted to make sure others could see it. I took the perspective that Twitter has three levels of messaging… private messages (DMs), messages between people who are in the same network (@ replies) and full broadcast tweets (everything else).

    Prediction: Retweets (RTs) will become more important in discovering new people since putting an RT at the front of a tweet prevents Twitter from using a leading @ reply as a filter. This is one reason why I retweet so much and don't just say “@soandso great tweet!”

  5. haveboard says

    Perfect example of why this a terrible change: “@mygoodfriend is new to twitter and is very funny. You should follow them and welcome them to twitter” would not be seen by anyone because this new user wouldn't be followed by anyone at that point since they are new. This will not help new users or old alike. #replygate

    • says

      Perfect example. I couldn't agree more. If they don't decide to reverse this
      change, I'm going to have to completely alter how I craft my tweets. I may
      in fact never start a tweet with a username again.

      • haveboard says

        I just did a few more test and it looks as though if you start your tweet with @username, it is hidden to those who don't follow @username but a tweet that says “follow @username” would go through.

        • antifreeze says

          Right, but even then, just because a tweet starts with an @ doesn't mean it's a direct reply to that person!

          For instance: @orian just told me the funniest thing: he values my advice!

          No one would see that!

          And an easy way to tweet that differently and keep it short enough for twitter? You tell me, I'm at a loss.

          I think the whole filtering replies thing in any way should be ditched and we should all just seem the uncensored streams of those whom we follow!

          • twitteruser says

            But that was the default so far – only showing the replies to people you`re following. Nothing has changed in that and I suppose, that the default settings was(is) really dominant among twitter users. Lot of people here sounds like, that showing all the replies should be default – that would kill my twitter experience.

          • devinganger says

            What about:

            Funniest thing from @orian: he values my advice!


            @orian just told me the funniest thing…

            Also has the virtue of being shorter, leaving more chars for the content.

      • says

        I was thinking exactly the same thing. The problem with that method though, is it disables the “in reply to” link, which is necessary to follow a conversation from longer than 5 minutes ago.

        I can't believe how they can make such a mistake to hide @replies from non-followers. It can't be “because it's undesirable”, as there was already an optional (and default to boot) setting for those that don't wanna see those replies. It really is a stupid move.

  6. says

    “@newuser is a cool person to follow” won't be seen, but “Hey, @newuser is a cool person to follow” will be seen. The second one is parsed as a regular status update by the system as opposed to a reply.
    Would be nice if people had some sort of option, though.

  7. says

    Thank you for pointing this out! Eliminating an important element of user control should not be a substitute for coming up with a better design for the control. That's just lazy!

  8. Joan Vermette says

    I'm with you all on this — this blows. It really hinders the flow of interconnected conversations, and doesn't help me find people nor have people find me. Send this away to Twitter, Whitney, please — and thanks for the effort.

  9. EricSB says

    It's a horrid change, I don't get what it buys Twitter users? Perhaps Twitter's problem is one of lack of an ability to communicate? What strikes me as odd is this: Twitter's nature has literally attracked a frenzy of users that many a-companies would die to come close to being able to do. One would think making changes to a successful formula may leave in question the intelligence behind this decision and the people making it. I agree with previous stated facts of having to completely re-think my usage of Twitter. So to the point that perhaps I’ll stop using it as I can no longer easily grow my network. One of the very reasons for creating a Twitter account to begin with. I sincerely hope we can see a reversal of this rather assanine decision and have hopes that future decisions be rendered with closer scrutinity.

  10. says

    I know my comment is the first one on the copied twitter stream, but I want to reiterate that I liked being able to see who my friends were talking to. It let me meet some really interesting people in the 1+ year I've been on twitter (some who have become real life friends), and I feel like I would be missing out on meeting more interesting people.

    The whole concept of #followfriday became a joke when it just became people listing a hundred names, but when you find someone who has a mutual interest to discuss, it is far more valuable.

  11. says

    Well, this will kill the #followfriday phenomenon.

    This is kinda odd coming from Twitter. I'm on with the same user name. Evan Prodromou and crew have a consistent vision of what they want to do with and the code is openly available. With a drastic change like this from Twitter, it seems that sites within the Laconica federation are going to be far more stable.

    • says

      This will not kill follow friday. I've been using the feature as an option since 2008, and follow friday posts are very rarely affected by it for several reasons:

      1) Referrals of a single person often start with a description of why they're cool, so they're not considered replies.
      2) Lists of people to follow often start the same way.
      3) Lists of people from someone you know may contain other people you follow, so if #2 is untrue, you'll see it due to #3.

      There are some that are filtered out by this, but that's the point. Would be nice if people had the option though, of course.

  12. says

    What Whitney said. My followers are outraged as am I. This is not just something to lightly and so callously remove, and then tell US it's because it's “undesirable.” Listen to your users BEFORE taking away preferred features, Twitter, or watch them defect to tomorrow's next best thing.

  13. says

    Whitney, you are completely right. They missed the point completely. As a company that provides a service adopted by millions it is YOUR job to educate users and not remove a feature or tool because of “confusion” among the masses.

    Like everything in life, sometimes things are not understood, it is the job of those in charge to make sure that people understand them — again, educate them.

    Great initiative by posting this, I hope they actually start listening and reinstate the feature and in the future engage the community in these “small changes” before they take place.

    • says

      For one thing, I think the definition of an @ reply was always a bit difficult to understand. If the @ was the first character in the tweet, that was an @ reply, but if it came later in the tweet, that is just considered a “mention” and didn't play by the filtering rules. That was never made very clear. Perhaps it was explained under the “What is this?” link floating there, but I never clicked that and I doubt many people did. That link was an early indicator of a problem.

  14. robertmurray says

    This is indeed the stupidest thing they have done in a long time. Initially, I remember having my account set to this setting. And I realized that I was missing 1/2 the conversation. And not meeting 1/2 as many awesome people.

    This decision just undermines the organic nature of twitter, and how our list of followers tends to grow. I value each of the people I follow, and each of their tweets have a great potential for impact. I just don't feel I should be missing entire conversations because I'm not following every single person on twitter.

  15. says

    There are so many ways that this could have been handled without such a heavy-handed and ham-fisted change. Seeing (even one side of) a conversation someone I follow is having with someone I've never 'met' is one of the most valuable ways of finding new people to follow on Twitter. It is *the* way I find the people that I reach out to; as I'm sure it's one of the main ways people find me.

    Following so hard on the heels of the new Twitter notification emails, and their rather stuffy and formal style, I have to ask the question: has Twitter lost touch with its users?

  16. ShellyKramer says

    I'm with @kriscolvin … listen to your users, Twitter, or soon they'll move on and leave you to hang with MySpace! This is ridiculous and definitely takes the social out of the social network. Thanks Whitney – awesome post and you are spot on!

  17. says

    Totally agree with all the above. I haven't been on Twitter all that long (only a couple of months) and when I first signed up, I just left that setting at it's default. It wasn't long after though, that I changed it to see all replies. I've been able to follow and interact with some fabulous people simply because I've seen them interacting with others. Had I not changed the setting, I would never even had known they existed. As you said, the solution is not to remove functionality and hinder peoples experience on Twitter, the solution is to educated people further in the choices that are available.

  18. says

    Agreed with the general principle, though I also discover people by looking through the followers and followed of people I follow (and who follow me). There is a workaround, folks! (it's just not a very effective one)

  19. sava says

    so I missed all the cool angry exchanges between all the people in the twitterstream screen grab because I COULDN'T SEE THEM because twitter TURNED OFF MY LIFE! jeez. now I have to go back to fb for a life? sigh.

  20. dwag29 says

    Just posted this on Twitter regarding the change:
    “NOT happy about the @reply change. Twitter is about conversation and discovery. I like conversation & discovery. #twitterfail #@replyfail”

    You are right in that Twitter has underestimated its users and how they have defined its growth. I'm actually surprised that they are still leading with “What are you doing?” when it really should be Facebook's “What's on your mind?” (In fact, FB & Twitter should switch those because that's how people use them more frequently).

    Twitters USERS made it about conversation and discovery, not “eating a burrito for lunch” which is what non-Tweeps think it is about based on the “What are you doing” lead.

    Another GREAT example of how this debacle will hurt conversation & discovery: @SuzeOrmanShow replies to EVERY SINGLE finance question she gets. She has over 11,000 followers, not just because she is a celeb, but because she provides valuable information and actually responds to and engages with all her followers. Usually, I read her replies and then click on “in reply to @user” if I want to read the original question. However, I do not wish to follow the thousands that send Suze a tweet. So now I won't be able to see those replies? And Suze will have to find another way to reply to questions so that her followers see them?

    Bad move, @Twitter. RECALL NOW.

    (Just saw that the #1 trending topic is #fixreplies — above Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Star Trek, Kobe, American Idol… they have to respond)

    • dwag29 says

      whoa, didn't realize i used so many all-caps words there. i guess i'm more upset about this than i realized.

  21. sdj says

    Twitter is going to make changes and the vocal minority should appreciate that they might not like them all.

    More transparency would be better – ie user behavior stats in the blog post.

    That said, is this *really* the battle you want to pick? Lame.

  22. Tracy says

    I want to read what people I'm following have to say. Period. I'm perfectly capable of setting options to filter or not. I hope the Twitter folks get the message and restore this functionality.

  23. Karina Wright says

    I give them a week to restore the @reply functionality and then I leave. I do not want to have dealings with people who feel that they should control who I may have contact with. I found both new people to follow or occasionally specific bits of information by clicking an @reply of someone I don't know. bad form twitter…bad form.

    For the sake of my son who is in Germany for 2 months with limited internet, I will keep following his people for interesting tidbits. When he gets back, I'll be gone.

  24. says

    Like other's here have said, I really enjoyed seeing the @ replies to others. It turned me on to other people and expanded my interest in the Twitter network. As someone who is still relatively new to Twitter by a couple of months I was happy with the way it was. I think this is a bad move and hope it is changed back by the folks at Twitter.

  25. says

    Twitter is indeed 100% correct: the @ reply settings were always extremely confusing. It took me ages to decipher the wording and get it to do what I wanted it to. Unfortunately they're also 100% misguided in thinking that removal is the solution. If you've got a interface text problem, the solution is a rewrite, not deletion.

    Bring back the @ settings you silly Twits.

  26. chrisbarnes says

    Add my name to the officially disgruntled.

    Please, Twitter, treat your users with the respect we deserve. Let us choose the options we want, for @ replies and other features. If you want to eliminate confusion, how about building clear, consistent, up-to-date guidance into the interface?

  27. EzraButler says


    I am going to have to disagree with you on this one.

    Two reasons:
    One: I have had to explain to too many people that the ability exists to filter out to just @-replies to people you follow. It has lost me followers, and caused me to pull out my MacBook at, at least, one party and walk a guy through the steps. (He still never followed me back :( )
    Two: The point of twitter is conversation, and currently what many people do is they simply disregard their main stream. They create groups on Tweetdeck just so they can filter out all the noise of people talking all over.
    Twitter is making a declaration: Engage with your current followers, don't just always be looking for a new fix, errrr.. conversation. It's not a numbers game.
    Create a search if you want to see everything that happens about someone. I do that with @1938media, and I am able to actually track the conversations, as opposed to a one sided response.

  28. dwag29 says

    One more thought: I posted earlier on Twitter that I am often disappointed in a brand I like when I discover that they just use Twitter to “broadcast” promotions, blog posts, etc but not engage with their users. When I look at a brand's Twitter stream I can gauge immediately how much they interact with their users (For an example of a brand that engages well with its 3,500 followers, check out @popcap_games. For an example of a brand which does a poor job of engaging with its 341 followers, which breaks my heart because I looooooove Brooklyn Industries, check out @Brooklyn2009). By taking away @replies in the front of a post, I will totally miss seeing this engagement off the bat.

    Now, maybe brands will adjust and write “Thanks for the feedback, @dwag29” instead of “@dwag29 Thanks for the feedback” but probably not if it's just easy to hit the “reply” button which puts the @name first. Unless this is something else Twitter plans to change…

  29. lynniep says

    Completely agree. Most of the fabulous and interesting people I have managed to connect with on Twitter were found through their conversations with other fabulous and interesting people I already knew.

    Connecting with others and locating those you might know is already enough of a barrier to entry–why make it harder? Suggesting that they follow @ijustine does far less to engage a user than exposing them to conversations with others they may already know or at least share interests with.

    Steve is right: This change is absolutely ham-fisted and really disappoints me. Given the nature of this medium I would have thought @ev and company would have a better grasp on the way users interact with Twitter.

  30. says

    Not too impressed with this. Now we have to add unnecessary characters at the beginning of a reply to ensure the person sees our tweet – yeah dumb.

    I love getting replies from ppl not in my network. This happens regularly as I ask questions and use hash tags to ensure that people following a tag can see it and it's a great way to crowd source answers – now it's less likely to be successful.

    twitter change = feail

  31. supaspoida says

    Really don't understand the logic behind this, and agree that the real problem was the effectiveness of twitter's explanation of the feature. If you ask me, this should have been the default behavior, with a simple toggle to ignore @replies to people you don't follow. Having it this way might even reduce the time it takes newcomers to 'get' twitter.

  32. says

    completely and utterly a TITANIC sized disaster. no wonder Twitter became more boring (and with fewer tweets) all of a sudden. great blog you have!

    Happy Birthday to Robert Pattinson – turns 23 woo hoo – May 13

  33. says

    wow. thanks for pointing this out whitney. this is a horrible idea. i did the same thing you did with your setting when i first signed up because i wanted to find more interesting people to follow and it worked out great. by taking away this option, it will change the experience for everyone, esp. new users just getting started.

  34. says

    Epic social network fail: Taking away user control _and_ a valued feature with no user input before-the-fact tanks the sense of trust we've developed with twitter as a partner in our work and social space.

  35. BiZZantik says

    I think Twitter doesn't think.

    Thanks, Whitney, for pointing this out and leading the charge. Hopefully they will listen to their people.

  36. Wendy Stengel says

    People often misspell my twitter name — they use wendywooHOo instead of wendywooWHo; with the change, I don't see the comments unless I search for the incorrect name. Annoying.

  37. says

    Twitters UX was always kind of “meh”, but it has been cope-able since I began using it a couple of years ago. I thought they hired a UX person. If so, they need to rethink either who they hired or what their users want. The problem with Twitter is it has become too big for it's own good. The data is so rich now that the simple interface and data filtering points aren't cutting it anymore. Hashtags are a move in the right direction, but with all of the data out there to be had on Twitter, users need better filtering, and by just getting rid of a setting, they have only hindered their growth. Is this a quick test to see reaction? Not really an A/B test, but a “switch it off, gauge reaction and flip it back on?”

    And as Wendy pointed out, people take my Twitter name and not only misspell it, but do it on purpose. I'm @periodicdesign, but people will use @periodicmoviegoer or @periodictraveler. When people ask, “why didn't you respond to my tweet?,” I say, “What tweet?!” I don't call them by a different name, I use their name. If your name is John, I don't call you Bob.

  38. says

    This was obviously a very poorly considered decision. Extensively considered? Maybe. But intelligently so? No.

    Particularly sad for me, since a few months ago I suggested what I humbly believed to be an enhancement to this setting – allowing users granular control over which users they receive @messages from – only to hear from Alex that the suggestion was a feature best left for development by the 3rd party app community. This makes all sorts of faulty user assumptions, and the underlying lack of insight has now manifested in this new @messages change.

    Twitter guys: It's a terrible change. And in general, you're misunderstanding and devaluing one of Twitter's key draws (that it is usable via multiple entry points, from SMS to various API consumer apps, to the website itself) by pushing feature development responsibilities out to app development communities.

  39. says

    Completely agree. Twitter removed an option because they didn't want to rewrite poor documentation. I'm sure most of you knew what the options meant, but if you look at them from a new users perspective it is a little confusing. Twitter just needed better documentation and instead of sitting down to do the work they just deleted the option all together.

  40. says

    This one is so obvious, I feel I can't add anything to all the wonderful comments you have received so I will say this:

    Clearly this is a MONSTER topic on Twitter (see #fixreplies) so let's turn it into an experiment on how effective Twitter can be as a force of change (or perhaps how bullheaded @ev and @biz can be in their new celebrity)

    Who wants to make odds on when it gets fixed?

    On a side note: (not data supported) I would think that (for now) the majority of Twitter traffic emanates from the US. So why on earth would Twitter take down the service at noon pacific time for 1 hr as opposed to, say 3am?

  41. Chad M says

    Twitter says they have removed this behavior because it is “not desirable”. Users can decide if they desire it or not by turning it off if they don't like it. Please, listen to your users. It is clearly desirable.


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