Twitter Changes 'mention' Behavior

The popular microblogging service Twitter on Tuesday underwent some changes to the way that "mentions" are handled, setting off howls of derision from its most vocal users, who say that the change lessens Twitter's ability to find new people to follow. The company has since clarified in a blog posting that the behavior was changed because of engineering issues, and it hopes eventually to restore equivalent functionality.

Twitter, a social networking service, provides users with the ability to communicate short bursts of information in 140 characters or less. It's become a popular way for people to share information and links, and to connect to others with similar interests, friends, family, or business associates. It's also working its way through the business world, especially for businesses that want to connect one-on-one with customers without having to use telephone lines, Web sites, or cumbersome chat services.

Since Tuesday the Twitter community buzzed with news that Twitter's developers had, rather arbitrarily, changed the behavior of "mentions," or tweets that include someone's Twitter user name (preceded by the "@" symbol). The update -- the removal of an option in Twitter's preferences -- prevents users from seeing public replies sent by friends to other Twitter accounts that they are not following. The issue affects Twitter's Web interface and third-party Twitter clients alike.

A Twitter blog posted Tuesday explained the decision.

"Based on usage patterns and feedback, we've learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow--it's a good way to stay in the loop. However, 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," the blog reads.

Critics suggest that this makes it markedly more difficult for Twitter users to find new people or businesses they might like to follow.

A blog post authored by Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb has a detailed explanation of the change. Kirkpatrick opines that it's a very bad move on Twitter's part.

"This isn't a small change at all; it's big, and it's bad. The new setting eliminates serendipitous social discovery," Kirkpatrick writes. "... This new Twitter policy breaks one of the fundamental rules of social activity streams: that I can discover new people by seeing who is conversing with the people I already know."

Since then, Twitter has updated its blog with a new entry called "Whoa, Feedback!" Citing "a ton of extremely useful feedback" about the change, Twitter defends the decision.

"The engineering team reminded me that there were serious technical reasons why that setting had to go or be entirely rebuilt--it wouldn't have lasted long even if we thought it was the best thing ever," reads the blog post.

Social discovery "is something we absolutely want to support," the post continues, and Twitter is "brainstorming a way to surface a new, scalable way to address this need."

No timetable for the deployment of this new technology was announced.

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