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Why Are Tweets Missing?

Why are tweets missing?

I wanted to share some things Jasmine and I discovered about Twitter tonight. This comes from the Twitter Help Center’s page on different kinds of tweets.

The bottom line:

Twitter doesn’t show all your tweets to all of your followers.

On some level, this makes sense–the sheer volume of tweets would quickly overwhelm most feeds if they showed everything to everyone–but it was behavior that took both of us by surprise. If you’re used to expecting that all your tweets will show up for all of your followers, it’s confusing.

Basically, Twitter hides things it considers conversations–tweets that start with an @ symbol–from everyone except for users who follow both the sender AND the recipient. This means that if you’re having a public conversation but you click reply, you immediately cut out a lot of potential readers if you leave the @ at the beginning of the line.

What to do:

If you want your tweets to be visible to all your followers, don’t put an @reply at the beginning of the line.

  • hey @jaz_math I found this cool blog post about the missing tweets  [VISIBLE]
  • @jaz_math hey I found this cool blog post about the missing tweets  [INVISIBLE]

If you want an easy way to change this without getting away from clicking “reply”, just add a period or some other mark at the very beginning of the line.

  • hey @jaz_math I found this cool blog post about the missing tweets  [VISIBLE]
  • @jaz_math hey I found this cool blog post about the missing tweets  [INVISIBLE]
  • .@jaz_math hey I found this cool blog post about the missing tweets  [VISIBLE! YAY!]
  • ,@jaz_math hey I found this cool blog post about the missing tweets  [VISIBLE! YAY!]

Note that adding hashtags (#hollis, #MTBoS, etc.) doesn’t affect this; hashtags assist searching, and the @reply thing is about access control. Hashtags won’t give you access to a tweet that otherwise wouldn’t appear in your feed.

Details:

Twitter draws a distinction between “normal tweets”, “mentions”, “@replies”, and “direct messages”, and the position of the @symbol makes a big difference.

  • Normal tweets: any tweets that don’t fit the other categories.
  • Mentions: tweets that feature a reference to another @user as long as that reference isn’t at the start of the tweet.
  • @Replies: tweets that have a reference to another @user at the beginning of the tweet.
  • Direct messages: non-tweet messages sent directly to another user by clicking their name.

You can think of them as access categories that restrict the potential viewers who might see a given tweet. The farther down the ladder you go, the more restrictive the settings. The level of restriction depends on the position of the @ symbol.

Normal tweets (“blah blah blah”) appear in the feed of anyone who follows me.

Mentions (“blah blah @jaz_math”) notify @jaz_math and appear in the feed of anyone who follows me.

@Replies (“@jaz_math blah blah”) notify @jaz_math and appear in the feed of anyone who follows BOTH @jaz_math AND me. Note that this is NOT visible to my followers unless they also follow @jaz_math.

Direct messages (click DM, “blah blah blah”) appear only for the recipient and me.

A framework for thinking about it

Since I’m one of the people who mostly uses Twitter for professional things, I’ll put this into conference terms. Imagine that we’re at a conference workshop, sitting at one of several round tables in the room.

Normal tweets are like me standing up to make a comment during a conference workshop session. Anyone who’s in the room with me (my followers) can hear what I say (have it appear in their feed).

Mentions are like me standing up during a conference workshop session and saying “to respond to what Jasmine was saying, blah blah blah.” Anyone who’s in the room with me (my followers) can hear what I say (have it appear in their feed), and Jasmine also gets a notification saying that I’ve said something referencing her. This is, essentially, a public conversation.

@Replies are like table talk at a conference session: brief comments intended for a particular person but audible to those sitting right next to us. They’re not intended for a wider audience, so I only say them loud enough for Jasmine to get notified that I’m talking to her and for the people sitting at our same table (following both Jasmine and me) to hear me (have my tweet appear in their feeds).

Direct messages are like writing a message down on a piece of paper, folding it, and discreetly passing it to Jasmine. Nobody else has any idea that I’ve sent a message, nor do they know what it said.

Who cares?

I do. And newbies do. If you’re using Twitter to foster an open community, it’s frustrating and confusing for new people (like me, alas) when they can’t see the conversations that are happening due to a technicality. That’s what happens when you leave @replies at the front of the line: it cuts people out unless they’re already following both participants.

The sad part is that they’ll never know what they’re missing because Twitter won’t show them anything about it.

So: if you want your conversations to be open to new people and others, stick a period before the first @ symbol or move the @references later in the line.

If you want to restrict your conversation to a smaller audience, that’s totally fine! Use @replies right up at the front of the line, confident that you’ve got a smaller audience. But if you’re wanting to have a visible, public conversation, move the @references farther back in your tweets.

Thanks! Lots of people (the #MTBoS in particular) are sharing really cool professional conversation with Twitter, and I hope this will help keep it accessible to new people as well as established contributors.

Please feel free to link to this page and share it with others, or re-tweet the tweet shown below. Thanks to Jasmine (@jaz_math) for helping me (@adkpiper) figure this out!

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9 thoughts on “Why Are Tweets Missing?

  1. Note that it is still possible, with some workarounds, to see the tweets from an @reply conversation: if you go to a person’s main Twitter page and click the button showing the number of tweets they’ve sent, you can see their tweets.

    However, I think the main point still stands: this isn’t how most people use Twitter, and the tweets still won’t show up in feeds the way you expect.

  2. I’m not seeing the tweets in my timeline from people I follow. I follow 289 people but get tweets only from a small fraction of them in my timeline. I can go to their profile timeline and see dozens of tweets that never appeared on my home timeline. Any idea why this is happening?

    1. Hi David! I would guess (without seeing it) that their tweets include a lot of @replies or @mentions at the front of the line, meaning that they wouldn’t show up in your feed but would still be visible on their pages. It’s also possible that your timeline is somehow set the same way hashtag searches can be, where it’s only showing “top” tweets rather than “all” tweets. Good luck with it!

  3. Hey! I have missing tweets which are ones which have started with ‘@’ – is there a way for me to view these or un-hide them?

  4. I just don’t get it. My tweets disappear from the hashtags that I send them to. Is it because I have no followers? What’s the point of that? Shouldn’t I be able to make a relevant comment under a certain hashtag and have anyone looking at the hashtag be able to see what I wrote? Doesn’t make sense.

    1. Hi David,

      When you’re checking the hashtag, are you clicking the “Top” tab (often selected by default) or the “Live” tab? “Top” uses some sort of internal algorithm to figure out which tweets to bring to the surface, where “Live” should show every tweet. Hopefully that fixes it for you!

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