On Twitter and Noise

OMG my phone is exploding, send help

Posted by Katie McLaughlin on December 19, 2015

Yesterday I posted a screenshot of a dinky app on Twitter. It was a little bit popular.

Star Work Force

This has caused me all sorts of annoyances with the Twitter platform, which I will describe below.

Retweet/Like notifications

On the Twitter website, you can be notifed when your tweets are: retweeted, liked, replied to; and when you gain a new follower, or someone Direct Messages you.

Since the introduction of uncapped Direct Messages (DM) (you can use more than 140 characters and it’s awesome), I use this functionality to have conversations with many different people. So, naturally, I always want to be notified when I’m DM’d.

The problem is that there is no way to fully enable DM notifications and disable Retweet/Like notifications. The problem exists with the Notifications tab. It has a little incremental counter of unread notifications on it which does not abide by the notification settings. I have DMs and Replies set to notify, and the rest are disabled. This doesn’t stop that ticker from showing the counter of all notifications.

It’s the same on mobile. I can’t use the application without seeing that counter go up, and if I disable RT/Likes on mobile, the counter increments, but the clickthrough shows nothing. That is extremely frustrating. The counter and the notification tab contents should be consistent.

Replies

Retweets and Likes aside, I’m currently seeing a few interesting behaviours besides the current normal sharing mechanisms:

Manual Retweets: these appear in the general form RT @glasnt: <contents>, and appear to be similar to how the old retweet style used to be. This might be from older clients, or legitimate manual copying and pasting of source with attribution. Are they doing it for more likes? I don’t know.

Trending Apps: Apparently I was trending in San Fransisco yesterday. Also, I saw a heap of ‘twitter newspaper’ affiliate links come through.

The bandwagons: These are more sparse, so I can’t draw any real trends, but I had at least one promoting a charity, and one asking for a few accounts belonging to women to add them based on my content.

Humourous replies replies: These were few and far between.

‘Well, Actually’s: “Dat kerning”, “That should be Episode 666”, and “SPOILERS”. Sigh.

After the deluge

As I said, I use Twitter a lot. Trying to use it with all these notifications coming in means I missed stuff. It also, I believe, artificially inflated some of my normal activity; such as a tweet about the approval of the HTTP 451 error code. Normally a tech-tweet (non conference) gets 10-20 RT’s. This got 150+.

Not good enough

If I didn’t want to be annoyed with notifications, I could turn them off. But that’s just the same as ‘Ignoring the bullies will make them go away’. I mention bullies because this is what a lot of people who have issues with the platform have to deal with: online harassment. Because of the amount of conference-related tweeting I do, I’m not immune to the ‘well actually’ style corrections, or the arm-chair critics of the speakers that I’m quoting. But after the flooding that tweet caused, mostly neutral to positive, I can’t imagine what it would be like to a victim of sustained online harassment. There are tools to stop a specific type of known harassers, however, this deals with a specific segment based on known behaviours.

Twitter’s notification and privacy settings are very much on-off, and that’s just not good enough.

Ideally, I’d like to see the following:

  • the notification tab contents matching the notification counter
  • the ability to remove notifications for retweets and likes completely
  • the ability to limit notifications (replies and Direct Messages) to people you follow
  • the ability to remove all notifications apart from Direct Messages
  • the ability to remove all notifications from notification pushes and counters

Given Twitter’s history of killing third-party applications which may have had more refined abilities to limit notifications and such, to not implement these on the native web and mobile platforms is extremely frustrating.

Description of the mobile functionality is based on the native Android application available at the time of this article