Backup of David's Livejournal

The HeisenTwitter Uncertainty Principle

[EDIT: Twitter later stabilized @reply visibility:  Users now see @replies when the originator and recipients are known to the user, and don't see @replies otherwise.]

On Twitter, we'd all better second-guess what we see in our friends list of tweets.  Even if you want your public replies to be visible, be aware:

Your friends won't see your public replies to other friends anymore.
Or, when they can, they can't tell to which tweet you replied.

That's a lot like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. That's where you can't precisely know a particle's position and momentum at the same time. You can know either one with high precision, but not both.

At Twitter, you can either see your friends' replies, or know which tweet they were replying to. But not both.

It didn't used to be like that. If we wanted to see our friends' replies, they'd simply show up in our list of tweets, with a handy link to the tweet it's a reply to. You'd see your friends' replies, and you could click-through to see what they were replying to.

The Good Old Days
The Good Old Days - See replies and know what they replied to.

That was nice. Twitter changed that. Now, the only tweets that show up in your list of friends' tweets don't have that handy link. So you can see that they replied to something, but you can't know for sure which tweet they replied to.

Keep that in mind when you want to reply to a tweet. You have a choice to make. If you want your friends to see your reply (isn't that the point of Twitter?), then you'd better type "@username" instead of click the reply-button under the star. Or, if you want your reply to be linked to the tweet it's a reply to, you should click on the reply-button under the star.  You can't have both.

Having to make that choice sucks. Welcome to the HeisenTwitter Uncertainty Principle. This is why I like Plurk.
Tags: geek, web


 davidd on Jun 12th 2009 at 6:21 AM
That's why I like Plurk, too. Plurk is more like a conversation. Twitter is akin to broadcasting -- it's mostly a one-way service. I'm sure you saw the Harvard business school study posted a few days ago indicating 10% of Twitterers account for 90% of the tweets. Personally, I'm getting tired of gaining new "spam followers" based on the keywords in my tweets. Of course, this is becoming a major issue her at LJ -- new "targeted" emails to my LJ email address every time I post an entry. I agree, your annoyance at Twitter is justified. It appears to me that perhaps their business model is to "eBay" the site -- make it less "social" in nature, and more... well, more a "targeted broadcasting" tool. It would be interesting to see a list of these "top 10%" who generate 90% of the content. What the study does not indicate is whether these top 10% also have 90% of the followers? Just because they're spamming Twitter with waves of content doesn't mean anyone is paying attention to their tweets.

 sjonsvenson on Jun 12th 2009 at 9:12 PM
Curious I don't get spammed on LJ.

 halophoenix on Jun 12th 2009 at 9:08 PM
Actually, I knew Twitter was changing replies, but this isn't how I thought they were changing them. I thought they would be changed so the option to see ALL replies regardless of whether you followed the person being replied to or not was being removed - and you would ONLY see replies to/from people you're actually following. I didn't know they were removing the linking to replied tweets, even if you go to someone's Twitter page and look at it yourself. That's highly unfortunate. Additionally, it makes me wonder if the @-reply mechanism entirely is going to break as a result of this; how on earth will anyone be able to tell that you've replied to them? Sure you'll see that you've been mentioned somewhere, even if you're not the one being followed, but how will YOU know which tweet was specifically replied to? I'm also curious whether Twitter clients will fill this gap. A number of them (Twhirl, TweetDeck, PeopleBrowsr, and my current fave, DestroyTwitter) manage conversations very very well. If Twitter removes the @-reply ID that's associated with those links that are now going away, it could break a number of those clients, and the way they handle threaded conversations. In any event, agreed with the conclusions around Plurk. I also agree that Plurk is far more conversational, more akin to a forum where someone can post a topic of discussion and the chatter can flow from there. Twitter seems to be moving away from being conversational and more towards a "blast" model, where you stand on your soapbox and shout to anyone listening, with the hope that someone eventually replies. If you're lucky, you may even hear when someone does reply.

 sjonsvenson on Jun 12th 2009 at 9:09 PM
I prefer Plurk over Twitter. The interaction is alost exclusive one dimentional. You say someting, someone replies to you, you reply back, etc. If a third person replies on one of your replies the original replier doesn't see it. With Plurk a tread can move off from the original post's subject and attract other people