Twitter, explain your motives to your users!

First it may sound like a small, very technical matter affecting only a fraction of Twitter users. But it boils down to much more and I’ll explain it in a minute. I already described the technical problem in more detail in two recent posts, first in German and after becoming aware that it concerns people worldwide in English. To sum it up, folks like me who recently started blogging and twittering can’t tweet under a hashtag feed if the tweet contains an URL along with the hashtag. The message only shows up for the followers. This is a nuisance if you want to get active on Twitter and/or inform users on your posts. So it affects a lot of bloggers and new Twitter users. The company simply discriminates against them.

Twitter’s explanation/excuse for this is given by @episod (Taylor Singletary) at its developers‘ forum. He writes: „Some tweets, for whatever reason or current selection strategy, aren’t indexed by search, while others are. The selection strategies change & evolve over time. The search index is not meant to be an exhaustive accounting of all public tweets, it’s a collection of tweets that the indexer indexed for searching.“ User @jihanj pinpoints the issue: „I understand that Mr. Singletary @episod is trying to explain that not all tweets are supposed to be indexed and some algorithm under the hood decides what gets in and what stays out depending on their „relevance“ to the user query. He also assures us that no one is „blacklisted“ per se and we will all get our fair share of exposure on search page if only we were to adopt best practices and be more patient. What I and so many other users above are trying to say here, however, is that we do understand that some tweets don’t get indexed, but the algorithm seems to be „broken,“ in that it is arbitrary and doesn’t necessarily promote “relevance“.“

I couldn’t agree more. I tried hard to move Twitter to explain its index policy and solve the problem. I asked Twitter’s @hilfe, @support, German market director @rowbar and the press department. Either they haven’t answered at all or they just directed me to the general lukewarm info above. This is insufficient. Twitter is a key player in communication worldwide. We the users are entitled to get a much better, truly informative and transparent explanation by a company making money by our communication. Algorithms are not done by coincidence. Twitter’s top management determines the index policy and then algorithms are done according to it. They can be changed.

Therefore, I call upon on anybody who is affected by this problem or who just cares about a fair relationship between us customers and corporations in general, to get active and write/tweet to Twitter! If you make your voice heard, you can change more things than just a company’s attitude towards its customers. But if you don’t stand up for your rights, probably nobody else will, no matter if the other side is a multinational corporation like Twitter, a government or any other large organization on this fine planet.

Twitter discriminates against new users and blogs

This blog entry is in English, since it concerns the international Twitter and blog communities. Since I started my blog on January 28, I have been experiencing a problem that I already described in a former post in German. First I assumed that it’s my fault by making some stupid technical mistake, but meanwhile I found out that the cause of the problem is Twitter-made and affects a lot of people, especially new users and bloggers. It’s intensely described and discussed at a Twitter forum. To sum it up, folks like me who just recently started blogging and tweeting can’t tweet under a hashtag feed if the tweet contains an URL along with the hashtag. The message only shows up for my followers. What a bummer if you want to get active on Twitter and/or inform users on your posts!

Interestingly, in the first weeks I couldn’t tweet ANY URL to any non-follower. This has changed and by reading the discussion I learnt why. Apparently, I have become a more „reputable“ user, at least in Twitter’s view, and so I can now send links to lots of websites including my professional one, http://www.hottelet.de. However, my tweets containing a URL from this blog still don’t show up in the hashtag search, probably because this cute blog is not „well reputed“ enough (yet?). Some new Twitter users can’t even tweet google.com to non-followers!

I already contacted @hilfe (the German support) to solve the problem: no answer, then @support: no answer, and even Twitter’s press department, explaining that I am a journalist. Once again, you’ll guess it: no answer. Finally, a friend who is very experienced with web 2.0 issues directed me to the forum above. There I learnt from @episod, a member of Twitter’s platform team, that the cause of the hassle is Twitter’s index policy. Quote: „Twitter is an evolving product and the concept of search relevance and what-is-indexed versus what-is-not is continually changing. The best advice is to operate a great Twitter account with the aim of producing great content, and build a following around that content.“ Fine, but if the index keeps people from tweeting „great content“, it will be tough to build a strong following. As the last user’s entry of the forum states very critically: „The explanation given above by @episod … is high octane waffle. This amounts to censorship; it maybe done by an algorithm but Twitter programmed it. … This is the beginning of the end of Twitter. It provides favourable treatment to large corporates and established tweeters. Why should anyone bother taking the time to post a tweet with links! Just let Twitter’s big customers tweet; but soon there will not be many followers or posters of links! We need another platform that will take a more liberal less autocratic approach to censorship.“

When I asked Twitter’s market director Germany @rowbar for help, he directed me to FAQ, but this only vaguely explains the discriminating index policy. Keep in mind that it hasn’t been successful to prevent spam or malware being spread on Twitter.

IMHO, Twitter needs to make its index policy more transparent and democratic. It’s a huge player in communication worldwide and so it has to adhere to these principles. And it needs to respond to its users when they ask for help. That’s the job of @support. If you agree, please spread the word about this issue, maybe even link to this blog and make your voice heard by the Twitter officials and managers! Maybe you can think of a more creative and effective protest than this blog post? Let me know!

I will try to post this piece and its URL in Twitter’s forum and I am curious if they will let me publish it there 🙂

Update, February 25: Twitter published my entry at https://dev.twitter.com/discussions/9620. This is fair and helps to make the issue more public and transparent. On the other hand, the German market director has not replied to my last tweet to him. I tweeted this post to him and asked for his position/comment. Let’s see how things will develop…

Update, March 10: I wrote a new post on the issue: https://hottelet.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/twitter-explain-your-motives-to-your-users/

Hilfe! Meine Links auf Twitter landen im digitalen Off

Seit letzter Woche bin ich auch bei Twitter und gehöre zu den Leuten, die dort nach Lust und Laune bzw. je nach Zeit ihren Online-Senf zu allem Möglichen geben. Dabei hat sich ein Problem ergeben, bei dem mir bislang noch niemand helfen konnte, ob Power-Twitter-Nutzer(in), Hilfeforen oder selbst die Twitter-Presseabteilung (stellt sich tot). Ein webaffiner Kollege und Blogger hat mir empfohlen, den Fall in meinem Blog zu schildern und dort um Rat zu bitten. Also: Meine Tweets werden nicht unter den hashtags veröffentlicht, wenn sie Links enthalten. Meinen Followern und auch auf meiner Twitter-Startseite werden sie hingegen angezeigt. Solange ich nichts verlinke, werden die Tweets unproblematisch unter den hashtags veröffentlicht. Sobald ich aber einen Link reinschreibe, egal ob mit http:// oder ohne, ob mit Original-URL oder mit verkürzter Webadresse (bit.ly o.ä.), ob via Hootsuite oder direkt auf Twitter, verschwindet der Tweet im digitalen Off für die Nutzer unter den eingegebenen hashtags.

Da das sehr ärgerlich ist und ich vergeblich alles probiert habe, was mir einfällt – selbst in einem eigens dafür registrierten zweiten Account trat dieses Phänomen auf -, wäre ich jedem sehr dankbar, der eine Lösung weiß oder mir zumindest einen Tipp geben kann. Auch die Weiterverbreitung dieses Problems auf passenden Websites per Link auf diesen Eintrag wäre hilfreich.

Aktualisierung, 10.3.: Das beschriebene Problem wird von Twitters Indexgestaltung und -strategie verursacht. Da es Nutzer weltweit betrifft, habe ich das Thema auf Englisch erklärt und zum Protest aufgerufen:
Twitter, explain your motives to your users!
Twitter discriminates against new users and blogs