The Twitter settings update as a lesson in web usability

Twitter went a bit potty today over a change made to the services settings.

Yesterday, Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, blogged the change saying,

“Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow… however, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow… is undesirable.”

See it yet? He said most people. That means a majority. It means that some aren’t like that. That means changing it will be bad for that minority.

Consider this change from Twitter to be entered into the 101 of how to piss off your users.

It’s all about choice. Give people choice and they will reward you with their loyalty, respect and recommendations.

Take features away or make life harder and they will scream, shout, complain and generally bang your door down.

One thought on “The Twitter settings update as a lesson in web usability”

  1. I don’t think the issue here is about choice per se but about breaking implicit promises, or at the very least, defeating reasonable user expectations.

    Endless reams have been written about the problems of giving people too many choices and how that can hurt an application’s clarity and usability. As with all things, it’s about getting the balance right. Most things are neither one-size-fits-all nor completely configurable in every respect.

    Unless you have some kind of formal democratic structure otherwise, running a web application is a dictatorship, though if you want to keep people on board you need to find ways of making it a benevolent and harmonious one.

    What Twitter did wrong was to make an arbitrary decision without any consultation and present it as a fait accompli. It would cost little to get into a conversation with users about plans for things like this, and as you say, maintain reasonable existing features unless there’s an utterly compelling reason to do otherwise. My judgement in this case would be that it would benefit Twitter far more to keep this option as it was than to remove it.

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