I have found that being a user experience person has often meant arguing a lot. Your role in the company, is to be the user advocate, not the company advocate, so that your voice is a reminder and constant reflection of a product’s users… you represent them, and are paid for doing that.
But that means having to speak up, be confrontational at times, and be as persistent as you can possibly be when you passionately feel bad decisions are about to be made without being fired.
So this Twitter issue of removing a certain setting regarding seeing your friends reply to folks you don’t know, and the subsequent user experience fallout is the most beautiful train wreck a girl like me could ever witness. And it offers free lessons to anyone who will pay attention.
I have long been vocal about the fact that the one role not offered or filled at Twitter, is the role of a User Experience professional. They recently hired a Creative Director and front-end UI developer away from Google, to much fanfare. But those roles and those types of skill do not typically include enough understanding of human factors and behavior to have averted a UXP crisis of this magnitude. Obviously.
Here’s how the meeting would have gone at Twitter, had I been (for example) their User Experience Director:
Engineering Type: “We need to remove the ability for people to see other people’s @replies if they’re not following them anyway, because of….. (insert reason here. I don’t know why they felt the need to do this and Twitter has not explained.)
Creative Director: Cool. It’s just a checkbox on the Notices tab so we just take it off and we’re done.
Manager Type: Someone might need to post something for the damn users so we won’t get a million support questions. Gotta run… sales needs me.
Marketing: Hey! I’ll write a cute blog notice and talk about how it was confusing anyway, so we just helped everybody out!
Me: Are you freaking crazy??? A LOT of people use that feature because that’s how they find people they don’t know, to follow. Plus, they like to see what their friends are saying to each other. You can’t just yank that from the screen and write a cute blog notice! No way. We need to find another solution to address the (engineering issue reason) and not take away a well-used feature. You need to fix this on the back end. This is not the answer.
Much argument and debate would then ensue. History indicates I would eventually either win this battle, or a change would be made in a much different manner than it was with the #fixreplies debacle.
I am not saying this to be arrogant or tout my own user experience prowess. This is what a good user experience professional, in a position of influence, can do for your companies. It is a critical role… much more critical than software companies and product manufacturers realize.
Right now, every 20 seconds on Twitter, there are about 50 more comments being made, mostly by outraged users, with the hashtag #fixreplies in it. Comments with “#twitterfail” and “Options Back” are also part of this user outcry. Thousands upon thousands of comments are being made by I don’t know how many users. But this bad user experience train wreck never had to happen.
From the removal of the feature with no warning or choice, to the subtly offensive tone of the notice regarding it “this is undesirable, and you all were confused” to the sheer chaos and confusion of many users who aren’t even quite sure what the issue is, to the aftermath of at least 16 hours or more and counting of vocal user upset, this feature removal has been handled badly in every particular.
8 hours ago at this writing, Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, tweeted “Reading people’s thoughts on the replies issue. We’re considering alternatives. Thanks for your feedback.” He knows people will see that and spread it around and some people will get the message. But that is not hardly enough, when your users are spending their valuable time complaining, in an attempt to elevate the noise so you will hear it. Because that is the point and the heart of the #fixreplies movement. Twitter’s users want to be heard.
So what does being heard mean? Ev acknowledged they are seeing the tweets, for anyone who happens to catch it. I would have preferred they make a status notice, as they have one up about maintenance and downtime later today. He also posted a year old blog post about this feature because it apparently has confused some people. The detail and communication in that post is better than the “Small Settings Update” blog post that accompanied this sudden feature loss last night.
It’s never a good idea to completely remove a used feature without warning. You must always consider the purpose, tasks and emotions of the user if you want to take away a feature previously offered. Their feelings about it, are your problem. So like in any relationship that matters to you, if you need to make a change, it must be handled with the utmost tact, diplomacy and fairness as humanly possible.
Numerous problems with the update notice have fueled the #fixreplies outrage. Twitter won’t even tell us the reason behind the change. They said it was “confusing” but with tons of people having selected to use it, it cannot be that confusing. People aren’t dumb and have noticed this.
They spoke “down” to users by making this Big Brother-like statement: “Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it’s a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow in your timeline is undesirable.” The contradictions in that sentence slay me. They could have also said, “We know you like to follow along with conversations and actually have the real data to prove it, however, we have decided that you are all wrong. Denied!” Never, ever insult your user’s intelligence or ability to make choices for themselves in your documentation, errata in blog posts or in guiding text on the screen. NEVER.
The behavior of users is really fascinating to watch. Twitter is lucky to have all of this free feedback. I would have killed to have it for products I’ve launched or had to roll changes out for in the past. What they will do with it, I have no idea. They continue to baffle me as a company, so I’m watching, with thousands of other PR folks, marketing people, brand and community managers to see how they’ll exit this scrape.
Twitter is the best way for visible brands and companies to get feedback on their products, services, campaigns and decisions. I’ll say that again, in case the point was missed… Twitter is the best way for visible brands and companies to get feedback on their products, services, campaigns and decisions. Do they understand this, for themselves?
Yesterday the phenomenal Brains on Fire company in Greenville, SC held its apparently legendary “Fire Sessions.” In a post written by Olivier Blanchard on the event, he pointed out that “internal culture” was the predominant theme, and that if you “build the right company culture, the tools pretty much become peripheral.” I think, from what I have seen and read, Twitter does have a strong company culture. But from a total outsider’s perspective, they seem to live in a bubble of their own making. They are far smaller than their user base. It is the users they do not seem to connect with (unless they’re celebrities.)
Where is the User Experience advocate? Where is the Community Manager? Where is the team of people, working under the community manager, in different parts of the world because cultures and language and usage might be different, whereas the universal point of Twitter is the same: it is a connector. Where are the people, inside Twitter the company, who understand this, care about it and want to change the way they interact with their own users? Why is the Get Satisfaction support site, more lip-service than really utilized to communicate with people who take the time to write to Twitter in an attempt to share their frustrations and help them understand how to be better? These are my questions.
But my questions are not as important as this one… today, the number one question of Twitter’s user base, is “Will you please fix my @replies back the way I had them? I liked it that way.”
Are you going to not just listen, but take action, Twitter? We’re all waiting to hear from you.