For those of you who don’t know, yesterday Twitter made a “small settings update” that prevents you from seeing any @replies from your friends that reply to a user that you aren’t following. I’m not going to explain the details, since ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch did a great job of covering the change. You can read those two articles if you want the background information.
What I do want to talk about is how this is a symptom of a greater problem that has the potential to destroy Twitter if they don’t make some changes to the way they operate. But first, a history lesson. @replies on Twitter evolved out of a community groundswell where people started using @replies to reply to other people on Twitter. Over time, Twitter realized that this was a great way for people to make public replies, and they began officially supporting this community driven feature. Now, they are taking something the community built and making it significantly less useful. Twitter doesn’t get community.
This is very dangerous for Twitter, since the service only survives because of the community of people who use Twitter. By all technical measures, Identica / Laconica is a superior platform for Twitter-like conversations, but few people use it. Why? Because the community is already on Twitter, and getting a community to move to a new service is close to impossible unless the community isn’t being supported. Missteps, like this one, have the potential to drive the community away from Twitter. If the community moves away from Twitter and to a new service, Twitter will die, because without the community, Twitter has nothing.
I’m not one to complain without some suggestions for how to improve, so here’s my suggestion. Twitter needs to hire a kick-ass community manager. I’m sitting here at the Community 2.0 conference, and there are plenty of fantastic community managers for Twitter to choose from. A great community manager can be an advocate and voice for the community from within Twitter to help the company understand how it’s actions will be received by the community and help Twitter avoid disasters like this most recent one.
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