replies – Stay N Alive

Here’s How to Make #followfriday Work With the New Twitter Changes

#followfridayI mentioned on Tuesday in response to Twitter’s new changes that it could be impossible for anyone to see your suggestions on #followfriday if you started your Tweets with an “@”. Based on your responses, my assumption was part right, and part wrong. #followfriday is not going away (as long as Twitter users don’t want it to). You’re just going to have to do it a little differently, and perhaps that’s a good thing.

My point of Tuesday’s post about the changes was to point out Twitter’s attitude and seeming desire to make us use Twitter the way they (the founders and employees of Twitter) use it, rather than the way we like, and how that could affect the very democratically created tradition of #followfriday from week to week. I was amazed at your response! I believe this blog had a new record, currently standing at 101 comments on a single post, all of you sharing your opinions, sharing advice on how it could work, and what you thought of Twitter’s new decision. Twitter has since clarified the Kerfuffle (say that 5 times fast, and why won’t Safari count that as a real word?) in finally a manner that they should have done in the first place. While I would still like some more promise on how they’re going to warn developers of such changes in the future (since we were affected by this as well), I think they’re at least starting to approach this in the right manner.

So, let’s talk #followfriday. It can still work. It just needs to be done differently to work. Lately, while I appreciate all your suggestions and recommendations, I’m noticing a trend which I think these new changes by Twitter actually put an end to. That’s the trend of listing just a whole bunch of Twitter screen names, followed by the hashtag, “#followfriday”, and nothing else. You’ve just recommended me to all your friends, along with about 10 others, and no reason why they should follow you. Do you think anyone pays attention to that? And if they do, will they remember the people you have just recommended? It turns out that with the new Twitter changes those can’t work anyway, because they begin with an “@” sign.

Let’s start a new tradition. I suggest selecting no more than 2 individuals every Friday. They should technically be individuals on more than one service – that can be Twitter and FriendFeed, or Twitter and Facebook, or maybe even Twitter and LinkedIn or whatever other 2 services you want to think of. You should come up with a 140 character version of your tweet, 140 characters for each individual explaining why your followers should follow each of those individuals in as much detail as possible and then post it to a microblogging service (like Twitter) somewhere. Then, on a service that allows more than 140 characters, maybe even your blog, share much more about that individual. Explain what they do, how they got there, what makes them interesting, and better yet, include a picture!

I noticed this last week as my friend, Mari Smith, shared her #followfriday entry on Facebook. She included the name of the individual, a very detailed description of why she was suggesting we become friends with the individual, and she even included a picture! Mari then continued to endorse this individual in the comments.

I think this is a trend we should all continue. Again, your Tweets can’t start with “@” – sure some can in certain instances, but let’s just not confuse ourselves here. Either start your Tweet with #followfriday and a description with the screen name of the individual, or just start your description and include their screen name some where that makes sense. What’s important is that there is detail about the individual. It’s time we start some real dialog here. Let’s build real relationships and do it in style. Make your #followfridays count by doing fewer, but with more substance. Perhaps you could even start in the comments of this post!

Did Twitter Just Kill #followfriday?

TwitterYes, I believe Twitter has just become even less useful. In a very vague statement today that I guess Twitter doesn’t expect us to understand, Twitter removed, without warning or feedback from users it would seem, any and all Tweets in your stream that include @replies to people you are not following. Previously this was an option you could turn on or off, but Biz Stone, founder of Twitter, says in this “small settings update” that “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.”

It would appear that Twitter again seems to think Twitter should be used in one way.

What it would appear just happened is in a single blog post, Twitter has killed the weekly phenomena, #followfriday. The tradition was to refer people your followers may not know, but you recommend following. With the removal of this feature, if I’m understanding correctly (please correct me if I’m wrong), you will no longer see #followfriday posts with names of users you don’t follow, rendering #followfriday completely useless.

Confused? Based on the last sentence of their post, it seems that Twitter doesn’t care.

UPDATE: Twitter has removed the last sentence that said “Confused? That’s understandable and exactly why we made the update.” and instead replaced it with the following clarification:

The Importance of Discovery

Spotting new folks in tweets is an interesting way to check out new profiles and find new people to follow. Despite this update, you’ll still see mentions or references linking to people you don’t follow. For example, you’ll continue to see, “Ev meeting with @biz about work stuff” even if you don’t follow @biz. We’ll be introducing better ways to discover and follow interesting accounts as we release more features in this space.

UPDATE 2: It would appear you still can’t see the above Tweet if it starts with @biz and you don’t follow @biz, removing many valuable discoverable Tweets from your stream.

With Threaded Replies, Do We Really Need the ‘@’?

at-sign.pngI broke news last night on about Twitter enabling a new API feature, “in_reply_to_status_id”, to allow developers to tie replies to their original reply source. Immediately afterwards Evan Prodromou of added the same functionality to the source code, making two of the most popular microblogging platforms, Twitter and, along with the already supporting FriendFeed, supportive of threaded comments. Immediately we saw Dave Winer implement a proof of concept example, and YooPlace also implemented it into their own code. Loic Le Meur of Seesmic, the owners of the Twhirl Twitter client responded as well saying he was reading the article and looking into it.

So a big question has become evident now that we can threaded replies. Is the ‘@’ really necessary in your replies to friends on your favorite microblogging service any more? A comment by Steve Gillmor on got me thinking about this earlier, and I think he has a strong point. In fact, I’ve briefly touched the subject before here.

The ‘@’ is mostly a Twitter-invented custom brought to the service by its users with some slight roots in bulletin boards and forums where threading was not possible. Users decided the Twitter service made a great communications tool and began replying to their friends’ posted statuses with the ‘@’ symbol. There was no other way because Twitter wasn’t expecting to be a communications tool. The popular Twitter clients like Twhirl and TweetDeck and even Twitter’s own web-based client started catching on, and separating those posts with usernames prepended by ‘@’ as “replies”. What’s odd is that the only thing they recognize as a reply is if the username is prepended by an ‘@’ – they take no thought as to the actual username itself, which really is the actual substance of who the user was replying to. In fact, FriendFeed users are starting to do this as well since it only has one level of threading and users can’t comment on other users’ comments. (Twitter and are actually one-upping Friendfeed with their recent announcements)

So while the “@”‘s were a custom, they really aren’t necessary to determine if a user is replying to another user. In fact, even today you can use an XMPP tracker like Twitter Spy and Laconica Spy and track your username and get notified when a person mentions your username, exactly the way “@” replies work. It was silly that the “@”‘s were required to be recognized as a reply in the first place.

Now, considering you can now actually track on the back end the entire hierarchy of a conversation via the API “@”‘s are even less necessary as before. I’d like to see the various microblogging clients start to ignore the “@”‘s and allow users to simply type usernames when replying to another individual, assuming threads aren’t in place. Then, once threads start to show in your favorite microblogging clients, even the usernames shouldn’t be necessary.

I’ve mentioned before that IRC works this way and most IRC clients will look at the existing list of users in a room and automatically detect the username and notify the targeted user if the message is directed at that user. Not only that, but the IRC clients actually keep a cached version of the users in a particular room and will even auto-complete usernames if you begin typing in the username and hit “tab”. That’s what I’d like to start seeing microblogging clients do so long as they’re going to be supporting a communications platform, and it should start with Twitter and themselves on their own web interfaces.

Then again, all this may now be moot with threading available. Oh, and don’t even get me started on hashtags. (Those should be handled by the API, not in the content of the message!) I think I’m going to try a new experiment of just not using the “@”‘s like Steve Gillmor does – anyone else want to join me?