Tweets are changing and unsurprisingly everyone is upset

Some good and bad ideas this time

“I preferred the old Facebook/Twitter/[insert any website here]”. Heard that before? It’s a fair and valid point. Companies sometimes make dreadful choices that change websites and services in ways that upset users. Then again, some other change that would keep them happy would probably upset someone else. Sometimes we just don’t like change, evidenced by the people who complain they prefer the old website layout, then get used to it, then make the same complaint again when it changes once more.

It’s always controversial to change Twitter because it’s such a simple service. People post tweets with a 140-character limit and you can also share other people’s tweets by retweeting. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes but it’s a much simpler system than social networks like Facebook. That means if you change even a tiny thing, it’s much more noticeable. Twitter has announced some upcoming changes to developers they hope will improve the website and attract more users. Naturally, everyone is upset. But it’s maybe not as bad as people think. Here’s what’s going on.

Replies

All of the proposed changes are designed to improve the 140-character limit. Some people complain that the tweets are too short but at the end of the day it’s what defines Twitter and separates it from Tumblr and other alternatives. What the Twitter developers intend to do is keep the 140-character limit but let users get more out of that limit by not counting some things that usually count as characters. The changes to replies is what has upset most people.

Twitter developers have stated that users’ handles won’t be counted in replies. This is misleading and has a lot of people on Twitter complaining that trolls will be able to spam hundreds of users in a single tweet. Fortunately that’s not the case. If you ever type another user’s handle, it will count towards the 140-character limit. As far as we can tell there won’t be any mention-bombing.

What’s changing is the mechanics and presentation of replies. Try replying to one of your own tweets but remove your own handle from the start of the reply. The new tweet will still link back to the first tweet. In the background, Twitter uses metadata to track replies. The handle at the start isn’t actually that important for how the system actually works, it’s just what we’re used to seeing. This is where they’re changing things.

When you reply to someone using the new Twitter, it won’t need to use the handle at the start. The advantage here is that you have more characters free for content. The other thing people are freaking out about is that by removing the handle at the start of replies, all your replies will be seen in the main feed for anyone who follows you. But the handles aren’t important. The reply is still a genuine reply and they work the same way, so only followers of both users in a conversation would see replies. What you see on Twitter will still be the same; there won’t be a flood of other peoples replies to each other when you log in unless you happen to follow both parties involved.

An advantage of this change is that Tweets can start with someone’s handle now. Previously any tweet starting with a handle would only be seen by users who follow both the author of the tweet and the user being mentioned. If you wanted everyone to see the tweet you would have to insert a character at the very start (usually “.@Gadgette”). It still gets the mentioned user’s attention because they’re been mentioned and it will show up as a notification, but everyone will see it since it isn’t a reply. To summarise, handles won’t be a big part of replies any more.

Images, videos, and GIFs

The misleading announcement was all about letting us fit more content into our tweets without sacrificing the character count. Twitter have taken steps like this before, especially with the addition of image descriptions.

The good news: images, videos, and GIFs will no longer count towards the 140-character limit. You can share media and still have room for your hashtags.

The bad news: like mentions, links will still count as characters because that’s exactly what they are. There’s still a reason for those URL-shortening services to exist after all.

Basically if your tweet has a URL added to it by Twitter itself because you added a video or GIF then it won’t count as characters. But if you type or paste in a URL then it will count as characters. Presumably this means that a pasted YouTube video will count towards the limit but uploading a video directly with the Twitter app will not.

Retweet and quote yourself

Users will be able to retweet and quote themselves, the big egotists they are. You might wonder why someone would want to retweet their own content but it’s a surprisingly useful feature. It can be used to remind people about an older tweet that’s important. Also, Twitter adamantly refuse to implement an edit feature for tweets. If you make a mistake, you have to delete the tweet and create another. This is annoying if people are already linking to your original tweet so you don’t want to delete it. If you need to make an important correction, you’ll soon be able to retweet the original tweet and explain any additional points in the new tweet.

That’s everything important from the announcement. If you glance over it quickly you could come away with just the basic facts such as mentions no longer counting towards the character limit. If that’s all people know about then obviously they’ll be annoyed. By itself it would be a terrible idea. Fortunately it seems the changes are more sensible than that, although still far from perfect.

Twitter, how about editing tweets and a serious solution for handling abuse next time?


Main image: WOCinTech, distributed under a CC BY 2.0 license

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