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Twitter Changes Its Policy, Then Changes it Back. Maybe.

By Kevin Fayle on May 14, 2009 3:45 PM
First they changed it.

And everyone freaked out.

Then they changed it back.

And everyone rejoiced.

Now it looks like they reversed the change for some things, but left the original changes in place for other things.

And everyone was confused.
I'm talking about Twitter, of course, which recently modified the way people view messages, or tweets, sent across the service.

It used to be the case that if you were following someone on Twitter, you could see their replies to people who you weren't following.  Strangers, in other words.

Twitter users thought it was a great way to "meet" people and interact across the network.

Twitter thought otherwise, apparently, and made it so you could only see people's messages to people who were on your follow list.

After an uproar from the Twittersphere, Twitter altered the new policy somewhat. 

(For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, bear with me.)

After the half-reversal, any tweet by someone you are following beginning with the @username format that Twitterers use to indicate that a post is directed at a particular user will be visible to anyone who is following the poster's account.  Posts initiated by someone you are following by hitting the "reply" button to a stranger's post will not be visible. 

Confusing?  Yes.  Pointless?  Maybe.

Twitter's real value is rapidly becoming its ability to chart trends in the content of the posts.  Observers can pick up on what issues are hot at the moment and act on that information however they see fit.  The visibility of certain posts to other users takes a back seat when you look at it like that, as long as people keep tweeting.

And therein lies the rub: if Twitter's not careful, it could ruin the feature of the service that makes it both contagious and addictive - the interaction between users.  This could lead to a further rise in "Twitter quitters," and cause a drop in the number of tweets.  This, in turn, could make the information traveling over the service less valuable to pundits, reporters and marketers.  Which could spoil one of the only real chances Twitter has to make any money.

Of course, they may just be holding out to sell the visibility feature to premium subscribers down the road. 

Imagine that: Twitter with a business model.  That would be the real change.

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