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This article was published on August 11, 2011

Hey Twitter, activity streams are great but why is it still so hard to track a conversation?

Hey Twitter, activity streams are great but why is it still so hard to track a conversation?

The Problem

For a network that relies enormously on the interaction between its users, you would think Twitter would have integrated a way to easily follow these social exchanges by now.

There is an overwhelming amount of conversations happening on the platform with absolutely no easy way to track them. Sure, you can hashtag everything you say and hope your followers are smart enough to keep the tag in their @replies, but let’s face it: not everyone on Twitter is a social media genius or wants to waste their time with hacks or ugly hash tags. And unfortunately, other than searching for replies directly via Twitter search or clicking time stamps and conversation bubbles in attempt to track yourself back through the thread, you’re SOL when it comes to discovering who else is actually jumping into the conversation.

For example, say The Next Web were to send out this tweet: “Hey guys! We’re looking for the best Apps on iPhone. Reply with your favs & why!” TNW would obviously be able to see every mention and reply, but what about everyone else interested in what’s going on? There is currently no way to view the replies of every person who has responded to a particular tweet, which obviously makes me wonder: Why on earth not?

From those I’ve reached out to, the general opinion is that Twitter should have integrated this feature ages ago. Being able to directly upload pictures or track the Activity of those we follow is all well and good (thanks for the updates, Twitter!), but actually being able to view full conversations happening on the platform is a key element that this network seems to be missing. Unless you are directly involved in the conversation, every related tweet appears as confusing and out-of-context blurbs.

The Competition

This is one area where Google+ & Facebook succeed, but Twitter fails. On deeper networks like these, comments and replies are collected in forum-like posts where anyone can view what is being said in response to a particular update. In this way, further interaction is encouraged and users are more effectively able to add value to the discussion (provided they are actually interested in reading through it).

Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. I’m happy with the service (over 20,000 Tweets on my account is enough to prove that) and I regularly use it from both desktop clients and mobile devices. As a journalist, I am constantly relying on Twitter to source information and encourage discussion on a wide range of topics, but again, being able to view an entire discussion about a single topic between multiple users would be so beneficial to what I do.


There are a few third party tools that try to meet this need, but ultimately fail in terms of full conversation viewing. Bettween, for example, only shows conversations that occur between a maximum of two users. Twitoaster successfully threads conversations, but has since been shut down. Tweetree and ThreadedTweets are two services that “improve” the Twitter experience by adding more interesting features, but are also dated and go relatively unused.

Twitter itself seems to try and track conversations for you. Viewing a tweet directly from its web App, for example, will load a few replies, but you can only view the most recent tweets (a max of 8 responses). What if you wanted to track a larger conversation? 8 tweets replying to a post that may or may not be related to the topic aren’t going to help you.

Most Requested Features

The option to easily track full conversations on Twitter seems like a no-brainer, but that’s not all Twitter users are after. When reaching out to our followers, many of them quickly shot in their suggestions for various Twitter features. Some of my favorites are: Spam filters (needless to say), a way to track who your most “loyal” followers are, multiple account login (without having to use tools like TweetDeck or HootSuite), group DMs, tweet editing (within a certain time frame of the tweet being sent out), and Analytics.

There are a number of ways to improve Twitter, many of which I haven’t mentioned here. What are your thoughts on possible features? How important are replies and conversations to you? Are you happy with the service as is, are new features a must or should Twitter ensure simplicity is paramount? Let us know in the comments below.