Twitter’s Handling of Replies Sucks, Part 2: Web Twitter Arbitrarily Hiding Replies

Relatively recently, Twitter changed how a single Tweet is displayed on Twitter. Previously, when you looked at a single tweet, all you would see is indeed that one single tweet, as well as any replies to that tweet. The background would simply be whatever the user who tweeted the tweet set their background to (in most cases, the default picture of blue clouds. It looked a bit like this:

maria-bug-tweet

(Apologies for using someone else’s image; I tried to find one I screenshotted myself but after much digging I was unable to locate one. Additionally, this one is cropped; the tweet would be displayed in the center of the webpage. This was the only image I could find after an hour of searching which also displayed the URL.)

Nowadays, when you click on a Tweet on the timeline, the tweet is opened as an overlay over the timeline. Not that the URL is that of the tweet, yet somehow Twitter knows to display it over the webpage (that of the timeline). I don’t know how that works.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 10.02.12 PM

But I don’t need to know how it works to say this isn’t great.

If you’re browsing the timeline and want to observe the replies to a tweet, then yes, this is much more seamless, a one step process. Previously, to get to the single-tweet-on-a-webpage thing as shown in the first image, one would have to (1) click the tweet on the timeline to expand it (which would itself show some, but not all replies), (2) click the “…”, (3) click “get tweet URL”, and finally (4) copy and paste the URL to the URL bar.

So what’s the issue?

Advertising

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 10.08.13 PMFor a start, Twitter sometimes stuffs promoted content on the overlay, under the tweet that has been clicked on. Keeping in mind the timeline it is overlayed over /already/ has promoted content? That’s just flat-out gross. Not to mention covers up the timeline it is overlayed over.

In this example, the promoted tweet, which promotes promoted tweets, is bigger than the tweet I actually clicked on.

Because opening such an overlay relies on a single click, it is very easy for a user to accidentally click a tweet on their timeline, perhaps while missing the favorite (excuse me, like) button, and be served an advertisement as a reward for their misclicking.

It doesn’t show the client the tweet was sent from

There is no reason for it not to show this information, especially considering this information is in the Twitter API and unofficial clients can display it. If I recall correctly, this information was previously available on Web Twitter, but even if I’m wrong, why would that information be hidden? It could be useful in having users detecting a particular client that is hijacking accounts to post spam.

Lagging

While this doesn’t happen as much as when this was first implemented, there is undoubtedly a sense of awkwardness when opening and closing the overlay. My internet is relatively fast and I am using a modern computer with a modern browser. Spare a thought for those who aren’t so lucky.

Occasionally causes the timeline/profile to jump upward if you’ve scrolled a long way down

Granted, clicking “…” to copy the tweets URL from before this was implemented would sometimes have the same effect.

It’s horrible at handling multiple replies

I think this picture sums it up.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 10.40.08 PM

The link for this twitter post is here.

In this particular RP, one user chains their replies, and the other does not. For simplicity, for now, let’s just look at the first two parts: The one-tweet starter, by Chainer, and the multi-tweet reply to that starter by Not-Chainer.

On one hand, this seems to be easy to solve. All I have to do to view the tweets Not-Chainer says in reply to Chainer’s starter is to click on the starter, right? Surely, because Not-Chainer’s tweets are in reply to Chainer’s starter, if I just click on Chainer’s starter, all of Not-Chainer’s tweet will show in chronological order under Chainer’s starter?

(To be clear, I’m not trying to say “oh this person didn’t chain their replies how dare they.” Twitter implemented the feature without really telling anybody about it or making it easy for people to find out about it. It’s difficult to use on Web Twitter and can be a pain on mobile too. The best way to chain your tweets is twittrp.com in my personal opinion. I’ve got nothing but respect for y’all, this was just a good example completely screwed up replies due to Twitter’s apparent inability to think about UI design.)

Oh, how naïve thou art. Clicking on Chained’s starter yields this:

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 10.49.38 PM

So where is the rest of Not-Chained’s reply to the starter? We have to go searching. Really searching!

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 10.53.06 PM

There it is, right at the very bottom of the overlay, is the remainder of Not-Chained’s replies to the starter. This might be excusable if the first tweet had a “Show more replies” function, or hid the stuff in response to Not-Chained’s last tweet in reply to the starter under “Show more replies” so that the stuff at the bottom could actually be found without a bunch of scrolling or zooming out, or if the tweets you spent so long looking for were actually in order.

That’s right, for no reason whatsoever, Not-Chained’s reply will be shown out of chronological order. Have a closer look. Keep in mind that these were sent in order, as confirmed by the timestamps on the tweets (which aren’t in this screenshot, but I confirmed for myself when I first encountered this glitch, and you can yourself with the above link to Chainer’s starter).

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 11.12.41 PM

Through careful reading and some mucking about, it is possible to piece together the correct order of tweets, which is, as far as I can tell, completely random.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 11.16.10 PM

So where does that leave us? Well, there are two things you can do:

To help yourself: Don’t use Twitter for Web when possible. Granted, in some circumstances (such as aforementioned fiasco involving Chained and Not-Chained), it might be the only client that shows all the replies, albeit in a completely arbitrary order.

To help others: Chain your multi-tweet replies either manually  (which is hard to do on Twitter for Web, yet another reason why Twitter for Web sucks) or by using twittrp. Alternatively, post long replies on twitlonger or a similar website.

Of course, neither will help you if you have a rare glitch where your entire reply chain breaks for no reason…but that’s a blog post for another day.

Twitter’s Handling of Replies Sucks, Part 1: The History

You can reply to tweets. This isn’t news. This is kind of the whole point of Twitter unless you use it exclusively for news.

Unfortunately, Twitter seems to frick this up quite often.

The Early Days

Way back in 2008, well before I used the service, Twitter had to drop @ replies completely for several days because its overload servers were unable to handle all the hype about a keynote by Steve Jobs. Although people didn’t immediately flock to competitors, contrary to what some people predicted, clearly this must have been embarrassing.

In 2009, Twitter stopped showing tweets on the timeline which started with a username unless you followed the user being @’ed. Personally, I think this is a plus and helps with timeline readibility, but it managed to piss a lot of people off.

Actually, It’s About Ethics In Filtering Mentions

Fast forward to 2014. #GamerGate thrust the issue of harassment on Twitter into the spotlight. We needn’t go into the specifics of who was harassing, whether the harassers were co-opting the “movement” for their own amusement, where the line between disagreement and harassment is, et cetera, because the answers to those questions are irrelevant. Harassment (whoever you blamed it on) became a talking point, and people demanded Twitter do something.

About a year after #GamerGate took off, Twitter rolled out a system to filter mentions to all of its users, which seems to work well at determining the difference between threats and news and has rarely caused me problems, but there is no way to view tweets deemed threatening anymore, leading to concerns about censorship.

It appears that this was not fully implemented all at once. In fact, around the time this filter was being implemented to non-verified I stumbled upon a spammer whose tweet was not filtered from my mentions but whose reply didn’t show under the tweet!

The One Thing That Didn’t Suck Completely

It’s worth giving credit where it’s due: Twitter implemented one feature in replies which have been absolutely amazing for the way I use Twitter, and I am glad for its existence: Chained replies, implemented sometime around 2014.

If you’re unfamiliar with chained replies, I recommend this post here, but essentially what it is is the ability to reply to ones own tweet, causing the tweets to be linked together, like so:

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.49.27 PM

This allows for tweets to be joined together when referring to the same subject, as opposed to having them all appear of the TL at random. In theory. In practice, even chained replies are not perfect, nor are they properly implemented on all clients. Will I complain about that in another post? Most likely.

Conclusion

I didn’t use Twitter prior to about 2011, and as I mentioned previously, I have had little to no issues with the “censoring” of mentions via Twitter’s quality filter. And I actually like chained replies. So why am I bitching about mentions on WordPress?

Well, for a start, I’m a complainer by nature, but there’s more to it than that. I’ve had some difficulties with how Twitter handles mentions which (unlike aformentioned mention filtering) have not been reported by the likes of Wall Street Journal. As far as I’m aware, I might be the only user to have the problems I’ll detail later. For the sake of a complete look on the nature of Twitter replies, I felt an introduction was in order. And if I’m really the only one with the issues discussed later, this could be the only part people relate to.