A storm of angry tweets has flooded Twitter after the social media giant began force-feeding irrelevant activities onto users’ Notifications timelines. But this is just the latest in a series of force-feeding tactics which have shown Twitter to be taking a dictatorial approach to the user experience.
Concepts such as “You may also like” began to serve users with organic tweets they hadn’t asked for. Likes were subsequently served to follow timelines as if they were retweets. And now, Twitter has started to throw irrelevant activities, in which you’re not in any way involved, into your notifications – even if you’ve already muted the parties involved.
To Twitter, the benefits of force-feeding have presumably, so far, outweighed the damage. The site is desperately fighting to engage its users, and if those users have all their ‘friends’ on mute, or simply don’t look at their follow timelines at all, Twitter can’t easily connect them with new engagement. The primary means of ‘engagement contagion’ across Twitter has traditionally been the retweet. But over time, more and more users began to abuse the retweet function, turning it into a spamming device in a bid to win attention for themselves.
The culture of indiscriminate retweeting ushered in the bizarre bio disclaimer:
“Retweets are not an endorsement”.
And whilst such an idiotic statement raises the question: “In that case, what exactly ARE your retweets meant to be?”, the DISengagement associated with high-volume, indiscriminate retweeting had to be taken seriously by Twitter. The site introduced a per-user, “Turn-off retweets” function, but even that proved to be too much hassle for those following a lot of heavy retweeters. As follow timelines got harder to control, it was inevitable that an increasing number of users would simply stop looking at them altogether. This rendered the retweet completely impotent as a means of connecting with some users.
To maintain engagement, Twitter began force-feeding content.
The force-feeds are easy for users to identify, as they do not have explicit opt-outs. Some of them even come with faux opt-outs, such as the rage-inducing “See less often” button – perhaps one of the most obvious indications of Twitter’s contempt for its users. “See less often” appears as the ONLY… ahem, ‘control’ option on the new irrelevant notifications. The very fact that Twitter add a “See less often” prompt at all shows how aware they are of users’ hatred for being served something they haven’t asked for. But despite that awareness, the site does not provide the means to stop the force-feeds.
Indeed, since clicking on “See less often” makes no difference at all to the frequency with which the force-feeds are served, it’s clearly only there as a means for Twitter to collect data on the number of users who are annoyed by the force-feeding. It’s like…
How would that scenario pan out in real life, do you think? It’s actually more respectful to put on the vinegar without asking, than to ask and then still put it on after an explicit rejection. But the fact that Twitter feels the need to engage in these highly disrespectful practices shows how incredibly desperate the site is to drive engagement. Remember, this is not paid advertising. We’re talking about organic content. They’re trying to improve the impression totals across the board. To Twitter, force-feeding is an essential part of salvaging interest and maintaining impressions after a long period of decline.
To the individual, however, force-feeding creates unseen damage. How many people have unfollowed, muted or blocked you because Twitter decided to involve you in its force-feeding activities? The answer is, you don’t know, and probably never will. It’s even perfectly feasible that Twitter is feeding your content to people you specifically want to steer clear of.
There are implications for stalking too. When you start appearing in people’s notifications, it can look like you’ve deliberately tagged them or mentioned them in some way. It’s clear from some of the tweets relating to this change, that a number of users DO believe they were tagged. If someone has a stalking mentality, and they interpret a notification of this type as a direct tweet from someone they’ve been ‘eyeing up’, it could easily give the wrong impression and create a highly undesirable situation.
So Twitter, the whole point of a Notifications feed is to isolate PERSONALLY RELEVANT messages. You know that; the whole world knows that. I understand the need to improve engagement, but trying to trick users into viewing content by implying that it’s personally relevant is the kind of thing a splog owner would do. Disingenuous. No one wants it. Bin it.
Twitter users can avoid the annoyance of ‘notifications spam’ by using the technique described in the Important Mentions post.