Users everywhere rise up and fight tweaks to their Internet services

Twitter’s quick backtracking Thursday on changes it made to its service’s blocking function is the latest sign that tech companies that try to make tweaks do so at their own peril.

Twitter did the right thing to quickly respond to users’ concerns and reverse itself before the backlash built momentum. The one-day controversy didn’t allow time for a full revolt. As Adriel Hampton of NationBuilder tweeted, “Before I even had a chance to join in the outrage, Twitter reversed changes to its “block” policy.”

Is there something about tech companies and their users that make these dust-ups and pivots so common? Maybe it’s a sign of how much of our lives are online that what may seem like subtle, even sensible changes to a service can upend users.  Of course, there is the Internet’s amplifying effect: People feel empowered to take to Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and of course, Twitter to complain and launch a campaign.

Twitter joins other companies in the user-revolt-and-reversal playbook. Last year, Instagram apologized for and clarified some of the language in its new terms of service that led users to fear their photos would be used in ads without their knowledge or compensation, as we wrote then.  Netflix backtracked after users revolted when the company said it would split its streaming and DVD rental services, out of fear that the company was trying to make everyone a streaming customer, Silicon Beat reported.  Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, recommended the unthinkable, that iPhone users use Google Maps while Apple’s mapping service was being fixed.

In the Twitter blog post announcing the reversal, Twitter execs said their intention was to improve the blocking function. With the function, the blocked user gets a notice and is not be able to view the blocker’s feed or interact with the person’s tweets. Under the change, no notice would be sent and the blocked user would be able to continue to see the person’s tweets. Twitter said the hard blocking was causing problems:

We believe this is not ideal, largely due to the retaliation against blocking users by blocked users (and sometimes their friends) that often occurs. Some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse.

A few commenters, such as some on Branch, suggested that Twitter did not have a good handle on what is important to its female users when it made a change to the blocking function, which people use to stop someone who is annoying or worse from bothering them on the service.

With millions of users and more coming on daily, Twitter and other companies are in danger of losing touch with the myriad ways people use and rely on the services.

Above: The New York Stock Exchange on day of Twitter’s IPO (Handout NYSE).


Michelle Quinn Michelle Quinn (79 Posts)

Michelle Quinn is a Business Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. Prior to her current role, she was the Silicon Valley correspondent at Politico covering tech policy and politics. She has also covered the tech industry at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She was a blogger for the New York Times.