I love Twitter, but ever since I started using it I felt that the way it implemented the reply system was a bit lacking. On one hand they made it very simple to reply to people. Simply start your message with @name and it will automatically link it to the most recent tweet of that person and then put it on their “replies” page. There is a problem here which is probably best illustrated by this conversation:
As you can see, we have a nice 3 way, asynchronous conversation going on here. Now, how hard do you think it was for me to generate the image above and make it thread like that? Can it be done automatically? Nope. The way I did this was to fish out and screen-cap the particular messages one by one. Also, they were not all in one place. I had to go and grab some of them from Miloš’s and Billy’s twitter pages.
Quotably is a valiant attempt to automatically generate stuff like the manually constructed conversation above. Unfortunately due to the fact that Twitter’s threading model is broken by design it doesn’t always work. For example, here is what it caught from this conversation:
As you can see, it’s almost there. It just that a lot of the tweets simply got dropped for various reasons. For example, using the @name notation in your message more than once will confuse the system and it won’t link to anything. The other issue was that at one point Miloš and Billy were talking to each other and while I still saw their conversation happening on my updates page , and it was still regarding the same topic page, Quotably wouldn’t associate it with my name and include them in this thread.
Billy is right, putting the StatusID value in the message itself is probably a bad idea as it would quickly start eating away our precious 140 characters. But Twitter already does some behind the scenes magic, when it links your message to the top tweet of the person you replied to. So in theory you should be able to re-construct the whole thread by simply clicking on the “in reply to” links. This hardly ever works though. Most conversations are asynchronous so by the time you replied to something, the author of that tweet might have posted 3 or 4 new messages and yours gets linked to the most recent one.
There really ought to be a way to link to a message rather than to a person. We are already halfway there – each tweet has a reply button associated with it. Now all we need to do is to make these buttons do something – and preferably without losing any characters in the message area.
Before that happens though, we need a better threading app. Is it possible to do it with the current Twitter setup? Perhaps, but we can’t really really rely on the in-reply-to implementation currently in place. This is what Quotably is doing right now, and it is not really working for conversations such as the one above. So how do we thread messages?
Perhaps we could try to reconstruct a conversation by simply doing a full text search on the @name pattern and then arrange tweets chronologically. So a user could select 2-3 user names, and then have the Quotably like service fetch all their status updates in which either of the chosen users includes an @name pattern of any of the other two. No indentation, or other thread structure would be necessary here, because it is pretty much infer it from the data at hand. But if we list them chronologically we at least capture them the way they originally appeared in your Twitter stream.
It’s not perfect but it could be a nice complement to a service like Quotably. I do not purpose using it as the main threading system, but rather as an alternative which could help users track more complex, many sided conversations between a group of users.
Heh, it appears that Google Adsense is having an interesting take on this thread. Observe:
[tags]twitter, quotably, conversations, threading[/tags]