in User Interface

Twitter’s Reply Weirdness

One thing about Twitter that I’ve never really understood is the way that the reply to feature works, i.e. the ability to precede your tweet with @[username] of the person whose tweet you’re replying to.

Replying to another tweet in Twitter

Let’s say the person I’m replying to happens to be a user that I’m following but they’re not following me. In that situation, shouldn’t Twitter let me know that the user I think I am going to reply to isn’t going to see my reply? In other words, when using @reply, won’t users think that their reply will actually be seen by the intended recipient? The reality, of course, is that the only person who sees my reply is me and those that are following me. Maybe there is something about Twitter that I just don’t get, but it would seem as if, when someone clicks on the reply-to link, that Twitter should check to see if that person is following you, and if they are not, display a message to the effect of that this person won’t see your reply.

Is it just me, or is not having a message like this a ui screwup?

  1. Anders, I think it should indeed inform the poster of the status/”see”-ability of their post. Plenty of people are new to Twitter and wouldn’t know this (I didn’t).

    You’re also right on in that a reader should receive alerts to new replies. Unobtrusive or by settings, like toggle on/off reply notifications.

    The RSS idea was smart. However, it’s not enough that a reader can use another program or process to achieve results. Back in the day, a Windows user could accomplish the same tasks as a Mac user, but the Mac ui was markedly more user-friendly, and that was (and still is in the tech world) an important aspect of program design.

  2. Hey Patrick – I think the issue here is a question of what one means by ‘see.’ As I understand it, the only way I would see a reply from a user I am not following is if I actually take the step of looking in the replies view.

    But your point is well taken, and I think part of the issue here is that I may have been barking up the wrong UI tree, as it were. The real issue is not about informing the sender that the recipient may not see their message, but rather that there is a need to better notify the recipient that a new message has been received.

  3. I’m confused by this post and figure I must be misunderstanding you. if you reply to someone’s tweet with @[username], they will indeed see your tweet, regardless of whether they are following you. I have posted @ replies to people I don’t follow and who don’t follow me (including “big names”) and gotten a reply. I have also gotten @ replies from people I didn’t know & whom I was not following. I thought maybe you were talking about a recipient whose stream is protected, but then of course you wouldn’t even be able to see their posts.

    If there’s an annoying person out there, you block them. They can still be set to following you, but they will never actually get anything.

    Sorry if I’m missing your point, but what you’re describing has not been my twitter experience.

  4. @brownorama made a similar point (er, tweet), and it’s obviously great that there at least is somewhere where you can see replies. But at the same time, it would be great if there was some visual cue that you in fact have received new replies. The way it is now, it’s up to the user to be vigilant and take action to learn if there are new replies. Since adding a simple, unobtrusive visual cue (such as a tiny “New Replies” message next to the replies link) would be pretty simple, I think this is definitely still a flaw in the Twitter UI.

  5. You can see all the replies in the @replies section regardless of whether you follow them or not. Useful if you’re a big name and want to ask a general question. Mollydotcom is always doing twitterpolls for example.

  6. Wolf – great point! I knew there was a reason for why it’s set up the way they currently have it. But at the same time, I think the issue I am raising is really from the vantage point of that annoying twitterer, to display a little message to inform them that their (annoying) tweet won’t be seen by the person they are replying to.

  7. I believe the following/followers system is designed to only see what you actually want to see, and to allow you to filter out any kind of noise you don’t want to see. Let’s say there’s this one annoying person that always replies @you, you don’t want to block him, but you also don’t follow him [because he’s annoying]. In the current Twitter, you’re never even going to notice.

    Then again, this also filters out the ‘good’ @replies. I use an RSS feed from Summize/Twitter search to track all mentions of my twitter username, several other usernames, and the names of companies and organizations I am associated with.

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  • Peter Van Dijck’s Guide to Ease » Blog Archive November 11, 2008

    […] Anders explains how Twitter gets a UI bit wrong (the “reply” feature), I agree with him. […]