The dangers of statistics….

A year ago, Twitter said that only 2% of their users had selected an option to see all the Tweets of all the people they Followed. Others chose not to see Tweets addressed to others. So if you and I were following each other, if i addressed something @someone_else, you wouldn’t see it.

Yesterday, thinking it would be a minor change, they removed the option to see all. Strangely, a large proportion of the people on Twitter were incensed. #FixReplies was soon top of the Twitter charts.

After less than twenty-four hours, there was a temporary fix on the “See All @Replies” option – which doesn’t suit the 98% of Twitter who didn’t want that option. Those people are now being bombarded with (for them) horrifying numbers of Tweets.

Meanwhile, the others want the option back – bored with only a couple of people talking, and preferring a wide river of Tweets to paddle in. I like it that way, but then i don’t have Twitter on all the time.

After referring to the option as both “confusing” and “undesirable”, it was nice to see Twitter surprised by the negative reaction. This lads, is why Disraeli said there were three kinds of lies: “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

That 2% of Twitter users – those people  engage with Twitter in a way that makes the other 98% look disinterested. Let’s face it – if it was only 2% of people who use the program, you’d be experiencing minimal turbulence up there in Twitter Fairyland.

If that 2% can make this much noise in the Twitterverse, they’re a much larger percentage of the people who actually say things, and engage with others. Any chat room or social networking gizmo, you’re going to have lurkers. People who don’t say much. Sometimes, they don’t speak at all. They do like to watch the people who speak, as if it’s a soap.

Even in an chat room, a large number of lurkers only focus on the posts of those they’re Following/talking to, minus any @ replies to specific people – and prefer it that way. If you can only read 250 words a minute, you’re going to want to do it this way.

That’s such an alien concept to me, but then i read fast. If i notice you saying something in an aside to someone else, if that conversation sounds half-interesting, i’ll click on the person. Often, they end up being someone I Follow, and even more often, i click onto someone else from their list of Tweets, and Follow them.

Once Twitter settles down, and we’re given the options back to see all @replies – once you get the hang of basic Twitter, try it out. (EDIT: as of late October ’09, this hadn’t happened, however, they’ve given us Lists, so we can recommend our followers in hand-picked bunches to the world.)  The people you like, the ones you Follow – they’re the ones who are excellent for finding new people to Follow from.

Right now, the option’s set so that  even if you put @ to start a post, unless you click the Reply button, Twitter shows your Tweet in the streams of everyone who’s Following you – instead of having to click through to their profile to see all their posts. [EDIT: this changed, now posts @someone are not seen unless you and i both follow that person.) (Except their DM  -Direct Messages – these are still completely private.)

Tip for programmers: remember, as you build a program, that only a tiny number of people will learn to do more than the absolute basics to operate it. Things you think everyone knows how to do will prove to be strange and arcane to some of your users.

I have a friend who could email, chat, and apparently work a computer but couldn’t cut and paste. People aren’t very technologically savvy as a rule. How many of us can explain how a car engine works? How our computer works? What is the internet?

Some of you can explain these things – i can with some online prep – but you’re the exceptions that prove the rule. Most people don’t explore their computers or their software.

For instance, whenever Microsoft Office says to people, “So, you like Word? Great! What new functions would you like it to have?” at least three-quarters of the desirable functions suggested are ones that Word already has.

Most people don’t read the screen, and they don’t explore the Help or the Menus to see what they can do. Outlook and Outlook Express are both (for all their faults), amazing bits of kit.

However – most people, to program their preferences and connections into them, and get their email –  a basic requirement –  need the assistance of a tech person or a captive member of family who knows a little bit about computers.

In Other News: I’ve begun deleting the occasional Tweet in Twitter *sighs* due to chronic problems with typos. I only do it when i mess up a link, trend tag, or someone’s name. I figured i better confess, as it was probably only just over a week ago i said i didn’t ever delete posts.

(UPDATE: i discovered that deleting posts does not mean they disappear from Twitter – if someone Searches for “stinginthetail” then even my typo posts show up. So the warning about be careful what you post, especially with a glass of wine under your belt, is doubly true. It’s there forever.)

Another UPDATE – by using FriendFeed i can see all posts by people i Follow if they’re on FriendFeed. So now i use that, and the Twitter client – which i prefer for posting and searching – instead of being able to have one page open that gives me the functions i used to have on the Twitter front page. (Update, Friendfeed only showed me people using it, not all my followers, so proved worse than useless.)

The net saves time! Ha.



About stinginthetail

On Twitter as @stinginthetail. I write as Lee Abrey. Free copy of my top-rated book Polo Shawcross: The Birthday Dragon at View all posts by stinginthetail

4 responses to “The dangers of statistics….

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