• How Twitter broke Twitter

    If you’re a Twitter user, you may care about this. I think you should. If you’re not a Twitter user, move on. You won’t care and you shouldn’t.

    Dan Diamond of The Advisory Board Tweeted the following at me at 1:05PM EST today.

    Notice that he prefaced his tweet with a “.@afrakt” (see the period?) and not just a “@afrakt”. That’s because Dan wanted all his followers to see his tweet. Starting the tweet with “@afrakt” (no period) would only allow those who jointly follow me and him to see it. (This is not something new Twitter users tend to know, but it is worth knowing, so learn it!)

    However, not all of Dan’s followers saw this tweet. In fact, it only was sent to our joint followers despite the “.” preface. Conclusion: all of you Twitter users out there who think a “.” guarantees that all your followers will see your tweet are wrong. Let that sink in. Think about all those tweets you explicitly put a “.” in front of so that your followers would see them. Is your face starting to twitch yet?

    As a demonstration that not all of Dan’s followers saw the tweet above, three of them sent Dan screen shots, which he shared with me. (Yes, we orchestrated this little experiment.) One of them is below. The others show the same thing: Dan’s tweet is not there. If it were, it’d be the second in the list since this is a 1:09PM screen shot and the tweet was at 1:05PM.

    Sidestepping the question as to why Dan has any followers that don’t also follow me (seriously!?), what’s going on? Why isn’t Twitter working the way you and I think it should? Keep reading below the image for the answer.

    Dan initiated his tweet by “replying” to one of mine (i.e., he clicked “reply”). Back in 2009 Twitter changed what “reply” means. But even after that change, prefacing with a “.” did permit all your followers to see the reply (or so I’ve been told). This seems to be one of the most important early lessons most  learn on Twitter. There are loads of blog posts out there that explain this usage, and many since 2009.

    Now even that has changed. Clicking “reply” now means that only joint followers see the tweet even if you prefix it with a “.” (or anything else for that matter). You can still tweet at (@) someone with a “.@” construction and have all your followers see it but not if you click reply. When did this change occur? I cannot find anything on the internet that documents it. Is this the first post to do so?

    Even though there is a workaround (don’t use “reply”), this is still a big deal. Here’s why: Replying by clicking “reply” keeps the thread intact so that one can see the full thread (conversation) later. Initiating a new tweet so you can really “.@” to everyone breaks the thread. The intended reply is not really a “reply” as Twitter knows it (or would know it). That’s a shame. I often open up conversations to catch up. It’s near impossible to do that with a busy Twitter stream otherwise. As people abandon “reply” to make “.@” work the way it used to, fewer conversations will be whole. That makes me angry. Now my face is all twitchy. Yours should be too.

    So, Twitter lost something useful by dumbing down what “reply” does. I hate to say it, but it seems like they need a “reply all” button.

    UPDATE: Dan has been tracking this story and tells me that it appears Twitter has been changing their code. So, folks out there testing “.@” replies may be getting different results than we show above for that reason. Also, there may be app-specific issues. The landscape on this is confusing. I hope some real tech writer will sort it all out, possibly getting some comment from Twitter.

    UPDATE 2: The word on the Internet is that this is a bug. I hope it is fixed or better documented so that users can more easily learn how to use Twitter.


    • If twitter ever gets a Reply All button, we’re all screwed! really not interested in all the extra buttons just to get the message to all users.

      Interesting find. If you ever find a solution, do post it….

    • I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I understand why people want twitter to behave the old way, but on the other hand I feel like the .@ is “HEY EVERYONE LOOK AT THE CONVERSATION I’M HAVING!” Especially when you could just as easily (in most cases) simply not let @whomever be the first thing in your tweet. Instead of “.@whomever blah blah blah” you can often type “blah blah, @whomever, blah” then everyone sees it with no stupid .@ in the beginning.

      Of course this doesn’t help with the newly altered reply feature if you want that threaded conversation.

    • I always wondered if the situation you are referring to has anything to do with a privacy setting within Twitter. i haven’t personally explored this issue, but I HAVE noticed this particular thing happening with specific users rather than with the entire community as a whole.

    • I’ve noticed this too, and explained it to my friend who works there and tweeted at the then-relevant PMs:


      I guess I should have yelled more loudly about it? But there are so many other issues with Twitter’s product and clients that I can’t imagine they’re actually listening :-/

    • The beauty of twitter is that I can follow whoever I want. Meaning I only see the conversations I want. The “.” hack was bad Twitter etiquette because it forced me to see something I had no interest in seeing. I’m glad they closed that loophole.

    • I think this was done to protect the person being replied to who may not want the conversation expanded to the repliers followers. Of course, if that were the case they should be conversing by direct message (instead of @ replies) or, even better, via another medium (not Twitter).

      – Dave

    • Sure, this is a bit crap, but if you want all of your followers to see the tweet, couldn’t you just retweet (new style) your own tweet after posting?
      That keeps the conversation thread intact, and shows your reply to all your followers.

    • Surely this is a good thing?

      1. This means that all conversations are kept together. 2. A lot of crappy chit-chat between people is kept out of all their follower feeds. 3. If you really want to see all that stuff, it is still available if you click on the author’s profile.

      Not sure what the issue is?

    • Actually this seems to be a problem with the twitter for iphone app. You remember when Sarah tweeted the picture of her health policy cake and the three of us were standing next to each other? You saw her tweet and I didn’t even though the three of us were standing within 10 feet of each other.

    • Just tested this out. As I expected, this is unfortunately true when pressing the “reply” button at Twitter.com.

      However I’ve confirmed that when using Tweetdeck (and presumably many other clients), adding a period in front of a reply still makes it seen by non-mutual followers. Granted, you will break the threaded conversation history, but I was under the impression that adding the period always did this.

      Moral of the story, at least you can quickly and easily still hit the “reply” button within a Tweetdeck timeline (and presumably others) then simply add the period and know that all your followers did in fact see the tweet.

      I think more people care about non-mutual followers seeing the actual tweet as opposed to preserving the conversation history, so as long as you are using Tweetdeck and presumably something other than Twitter.com, you will be fine.

      See the following tweet for a screenshot demonstrating proof: https://twitter.com/#!/GroupTweet/status/175338022903095296

    • What you reported above is is ONLY true of the Twitter Webclient, and it’s been true for a while.

      Tweetdeck 0.32,2 (and probably other clients) still work even with the reply button used. I haven’t tested ChromeDeck/New Tweetdeck yet,

      My original post on dot replies http://j.mp/eaJuwl I will amend it to reflect this change.


      This was reported some months ago, and our test were inconclusive. One minute the reply button failed, the next it didn’t. Perhaps they were only testing then.

    • I’ve noticed this with accounts that are private, but not with others. If this change is in fact now in, this is ridiculous. I really don’t want a “reply to all” button, simply a “reply” that shows it to everyone that follows me. That’s how I’ve been able to discover other people to follow, seeing part of a conversation and finding myself interested or amused.

      In short, please fix this Twitter.

    • Confirmed. Chrome Tweetdeck behaves just like Tweetdeck. The Reply button is irrelevant. Dots work either way. Whew 🙂

      Again, it has never been conclusive (to me) that Twitter’s client ever worked with the dot trick. I had never tested back in the day, and people who have claimed to test it were incorrect with their other test methodologies, so I never went to check.

      Now to test Hootsuite and other clients. I wonder if I still have them 🙂

    • Ok, Hootsuite Web client is behaving just like Twitter web client. Adding the dot manually will break the reply thread just fine. But as you report, using the Reply button will result in the dot being ignored.

      Moral of the story. Don’t use the Reply button unless using Old or New Tweetdeck (until further notice). I suppose I could test Seesmic too. I think I have it around here somewhere.

    • I’m in favour of this change. If you think you’re having an interesting conversation then tweet generally and say so, but trying to foist it on everyone with .@ always annoyed me as the resulting tweet usually lacks enough context for me to appreciate it.

    • So in sum: For some of you, the “.” hack is working. Others, it isn’t.

      This reinforces Austin’s original point: The hack isn’t consistent across Twitter platforms, which means millions of users (especially those who use Twitter’s mobile apps) are misinformed when sharing their tweets.

      And Austin and I were among them! Before attempting the experiment, we read @Shoq’s January 2011 post on using a “.” in tweets — but noticed that it wasn’t manifesting that way, consistently.

      After Austin’s post broke today, it seems likely that Twiter responded by changing its functionality throughout the afternoon. At least one Twitter engineer acknowledged the story: https://twitter.com/#!/evanm/status/175333281242415104

      Thanks, Twitter. This only added to everyone’s confusion.

      For example: As of 4:45 p.m., using the “.” trick through a Web client allowed all of your followers to see your reply — but it stopped being a reply and became a standalone tweet.


      But by 5:30, hitting “reply” meant that it would stay as part of a threaded conversation (but the tweet itself wouldn’t be visible to all of your followers.)


    • If you’re “annoyed” by being “forced” to read someone’s “.” replies, perhaps you ought get that Autism checked, or get a non-geek life, or just UNFOLLOW the person. I only follow people I’m interested in hearing about/from. I’m happy to read anything they type. If you’re not doing the same, why? What’s wrong with you?

    • I am now officially confused! I’m going to take a nap and see if all this is sorted out when I get up…

    • I have liked the feature that allowed me to share what I respond to someone, if I thought people would be interested: both my followers and/OR theirs. I never used exactly, “.@”. I would just imbed the @name somewhere else in my tweet other than the beginning. Usually at end or after my remark. I have not tested how this works on my iPhone client of choice, TwitBird, but I will.

      I agree with the position if people don’t like that kind of tweet, they can just block me, I suppose. I like that semi-permeable membrane of Twitter, and will miss it if it’s gone (has to have the thread in it, or makes no sense. Can do a quoted retweet, but that takes up precious characters. 1 workaround I have used for that is the use of “MT” or Modified Tweet. I am very careful to try my best to preserve the important point(s) in the original tweet.

    • Is kinda confusing. I didn’t know about any of this but not something that would really matter to me. I will just keep happily existing in my own little twitter universe…..

    • @Karin, I agree with you. This kind of thing seems significant to those with huge number of followers. Twitter has been through so many redesigns and changes. I remember back in the days when the big news used to be that Twitter was down for a few hours and this would happen again after a few hours. At least they seem to be stable now. Its amazing how they survived that patch. There were quite a few people predicting their doom in those days. Anyway, I hope they fix this thing.

    • The issue is that you are pressing “reply” THEN inserting the dot before the @username, rather than simply typing “.@username” as a fresh tweet. This change was introduced with “new” Twitter a couple of years ago.

      As far as I’ve seen (haven’t tested), the latest iteration of Twitter now allows replies to insert full words/sentences before the @username, and those tweets will be recognized as part of a reply history — As long as you press “reply.” If you simply type it as a new tweet, the tweet is shown as public.

    • This is nothing new. This is the standard behaviour of Twitter since forever. If a status update starts with an ‘@’ or is part of a conversation via the “in_reply_to_status_id”, it is only visible to the mentioned users or friends.

      A simple “.” in front of the “@” isn’t sufficient, you also have to omit the reference to the previous status – unfortunately breaking the conversation path.

    • Folks, as several have tried to point out (but no one reads the other people’s comments), it does not matter if you embed the @mention name somewhere other than at the beginning of the tweet. All that matters is whether you used the REPLY button or not. That’s it. If you want to be sure you are breaking the thread, do one of two things:

      1) just compose a new tweet, IF you want it to look reply-like, then start it with dot@name convention. If not, then just place the name anywhere else. I will sometimes say cc @name so they understand it was clearly intended for them.

      2) Hit the Retweet button on most clients that support “Quoting, With Comment (or whatever they call the ability to edit the text of the retweet). Then just edit the beginning, and add the dot, or twitter will consider it a mention anyway.

      That’s it. Pretty simple.

      For those who think this is a trivial issue, I would argue that you don’t use twitter enough to understand why it’s not just important, but vital, and it always should have been a formal feature. That’s why so many of us get exercised about it.

      Here’s a simple example:

      I wanted to reply to my friend @StopBeck. So I tweet

      .@stopbeck Congratulations on the recent win re: @TheSleeptrain pulling as from Rush Limbaugh!

      Without the dot, only he sees it. With the dot, my 14,500 followers see it, which is the intended audience anyway.

      Could I compose some awkward looking tweet with his name somewhere else? Yes, but it merely looks confusing to me, and users, because it doesn’t first ADDRESS the person it is primarily aimed at. Thus, it takes additional effort to figure out how to make something not structured as as reply, to still look like a reply for readability, just to work around Twitter’s technical limitations, which had little to do with how people adapted the service to their needs. (Something twitter often boasts about, but rarely means.)

      Message semaphore is not as simple as it first seems. These conventions (and workarounds) have evolved for a very good reason.

      For more on this topic from last year, so this post,. which has not yet been updated to reflect the changes that may nor may not be discussed in this post (still not sure anything really changed from when I wrote this):

      So What Do The “.@” Characters Mean In Some Twitter Replies? http://j.mp/eaJuwl #p2

    • I love my twitter. However, their development tactics, code implementation, and testing of that code leaves much to be desired. They consistently slap new code in that clearly has not been tested. Remember that little bit of code drop where you used to be able to hover your mouse over a user ID and a pop up window appeared? It was a while ago, and no, it never worked. Everytime they installed that code, twitter would crash. Hello performance testing anyone?

      They need to spend a little money investing in their code delivery/testing process. Better yet, stop screwing with things that are not user friendly. Gone are the simple twitter days, and oh how I miss them.

    • It’s working again! Preceding replies with . shows them to all followers again!