Twitter announced a whole host of changes to its service Tuesday, changing some small but fundamental things about the service. And then, something extraordinary happened.
There were no pitchforks.
Sure, there were some grumbles out there — nothing's going to be universally liked. And, no, there was no proverbial dancing in the streets about these changes, either. But given that people usually have a full-scale freakout when a social media network changes anything, this could be chalked up as — dare we say it? — a win for Twitter.
As my Post colleague Abby Ohlheiser noted, Twitter's been on a long road to tweaking its service to make it more palatable to a general audience. Gaining new users is crucial to get the user growth it needs to please investors. But not many of these changes have been met with the approval of Twitter's core users. When "favorite" turned to "like," there was a small revolt. Twitter Moments, which is supposed to highlight hot and trending stories on the network, didn't impress many users — at least not the ones vocal on Twitter. Neither did an option that shows you tweets based on importance, rather than simply in reverse chronological order. And rumors that Twitter would lift the 140-character limit of its messages caused an ire-storm so bad that chief executive Jack Dorsey had to promise they weren't true on the "Today" show.
It's been nearly a year since Dorsey came back to lead Twitter — first as interim CEO last July, then as the real thing in October — and in that time he's walked a tricky tightrope to appease people who say Twitter is too confusing, and its core users who are happy with things the way they are. With Tuesday's changes, the firm seems to have finally found a list of features that can accomplish both goals. While, as Ohlheiser notes, some of the changes will get rid of long-standing Twitter workarounds, they also get rid of the weird quirks that made users come up with workarounds in the first place. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the lack of mouth-foaming outrage Tuesday may indicate.
Here's a full list of the changes, straight from the blue bird's beak, aka an official company blog post:
- Replies: When replying to a Tweet, @names will no longer count toward the 140-character count. This will make having conversations on Twitter easier and more straightforward, no more penny-pinching your words to ensure they reach the whole group.
Media attachments: When you add attachments like photos, GIFs, videos, polls, or Quote Tweets, that media will no longer count as characters within your Tweet. More room for words!
- Retweet and Quote Tweet yourself: We’ll be enabling the Retweet button on your own Tweets, so you can easily Retweet or Quote Tweet yourself when you want to share a new reflection or feel like a really good one went unnoticed.
- Goodbye, .@: These changes will help simplify the rules around Tweets that start with a username. New Tweets that begin with a username will reach all your followers. (That means you’ll no longer have to use the ”.@” convention, which people currently use to broadcast Tweets broadly.) If you want a reply to be seen by all your followers, you will be able to Retweet it to signal that you intend for it to be viewed more broadly.
Of course, everyone still is a little bit of a critic. Personally, I think being able to retweet yourself doesn't do wonders for Twitter users' image of being self-absorbed. Not everyone is happy with the reply tweaks. And investors still sent Twitter's shares down more than 2 percent Tuesday.
Still others pointed out that while Twitter may have made some successful small changes, they're nothing compared to the big problems it has to tackle, such as online harassment. While this is undoubtedly a larger problem than Twitter alone can fix, it's faced long-running criticism for not giving users enough tools to deal with bad situations.
Shoutout to @twitter for solving yet another problem that didn't exist, and continuing to do nothing about harassment.
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) May 24, 2016
In fact, there is some pointed worry that a less-publicized change made Tuesday could exacerbate harassment on the service. A BuzzFeed article noted that up to 50 usernames (names preceded by @) could be included in a reply without counting toward the 140-character limit, which some on Twitter have worried will lead to mass harassment, by allowing trolls to send foul messages in bulk. Even in a best-case scenario, it sounds like you could get trapped in a seriously bad reply-all loop that way.
Still, it's been a while since a Twitter change was met with anything but hysteria, so let's at least enjoy the relatively quiet moment. Until the next time, anyway.