Twitter, you need this feature.

Or, if you’d rather, you need to fix this bug. As most readers know, I’ve been a fan of the whole Twitter scene for a while–hint: if you’re reading this on the website, right sidebar, bottom. I like a lot of what they’ve done with the service over the last couple years, including the ability to not see every random reply people send to folks you’re not following. But here’s where I think improvements might very well be needed.

You’re following A, C and D. If A sends a reply to B and C in that order, you won’t see it even though you’re following C. Which means you can’t contribute to the conversation going on very well–which is Twitter’s entire point, I thought. However, if A sends his reply to C and B, you’ll see it. But anyone who’s just following A and B won’t. Confused yet? It gets more so. A replies to C and D, you see it. Because, surprise, you’re following all three.

Since Twitter’s started calling replies mentions, and encouraging folks to stick them anywhere in the tweet other than just the beginning, it’s going to make integrating people into a conversation very much easier–if Twitter decides to support it. How they could support it is like this.

  • Four people have a following arangement like this. A is following B, C and D. B is only following A and C. D is only following A. And C is only following A and D.
  • A and D get into a conversation re: local politics. The only person who can see it under the current situation is C.
  • C joins the conversation, prompting a mention from A that gets sent to both C and D.
  • Under the current system, if D is first on the replying to list, B won’t see it. Contrarily, if C is first on the replying to list, everyone in the current group will see it.
  • If B sees the conversation, he has the opportunity to contribute something to it–thus, possibly, finding one more person to follow and doing what Twitter’s intended to do–spread the conversation. Hey, I know it’s cheesy. I didn’t come up with that.

That eliminates the problem I see frequently in which you only see a small part of the conversation in question, if any at all, in spite of the fact you may have a few people you follow involved. But, because of the relative handful of people you don’t follow and how the reply system is currently set up, you won’t see replies that get sent to them from people you’re following, even if one or more people you follow are mentioned. Since in most cases, you would only follow people you come across in a conversation for the duration of that conversation, most noteably if you don’t find anything else about them particularly interesting–I can talk politics with the best of them, but I have no interest in, for example, reading about the latest weekly music obsession taken hold of by that same person–it wouldn’t make much sense to follow, have a 15-minute exchange with everyone in the conversation, unfollow. The current system doesn’t allow for avoiding that, though. If the proposed idea was actually implemented, you would only be aware of exchanges with that person as they apply to conversations being had with multiple people you’re following. Thus, giving you the opportunity to decide on a case by case basis which conversations to join, and eliminating the need for temporarily following.

The problem is partially solved by the idea of retweet functionality, but not completely. Now, you’re relying on people involved in the conversation to take an active role in circulating the tweets of others to people who may only be following the one doing the circulating. The exchange is probably less relevant to most of those as it would be to individuals following at least two participants in a conversation. The system I propose above keeps it confined largely to that group where possible.

It’s awesome to see Twitter easily supporting mentioning multiple users, thus drawing those specific users into a potential conversation. But, it excludes a lot of folks who may only be seeing a part of the exchange, and that only based on current order of replies between people being followed. I can see reasons for doing that, but I can see plenty more where improvements like what I’ve outlined above could come in really quite handy. If the whole point of Twitter is social interaction, I’d like to think something like this would be common sense. I’m not sure how it would be implemented code-wise, but that’s why they don’t have me on the dev team. If they did do this, though, I could probably find several dozen more uses for Twitter than what I currently have. Not to mention it’d just be several kinds of nifty.

1 comment
  1. Completely agreed. There are several things twitter needs to do, this is just one of them. I was slightly annoyed when they took the feature out that let us see every reply that our friends posted, because that actually had its uses. This would be an even cooler replacement.

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