Why Twitter’s removal of share counts is a big pain in the ass

If your website’s social traffic seems like it’s down, don’t panic! The drop is probably a result of Twitter’s most recent update – which happened on November 20 – when the platform switched off its share counts on websites. In other words, readers like you are no longer able to see how many people have tweeted a story. 

Obviously ClickZ has been affected by this drastic change as have other publishers. Many web-based applications too, have been impacted by this move including Hootsuite which relies on data displayed by users’ tweet counts. 

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             For this article specifically, more than 600 tweet-shares are now gone.

 

Why was the share count functionality removed?

There are three major reasons why Twitter decided to switch off the tweet count feature. First, as the company scales down its business, Twitter is migrating from its current system, Cassandra, to Manhattan; a new real-time, multi-tenant distributed database. 

The tweet count feature is one of the last features running on Cassandra, according to Twitter. If the company rebuilds the functionality on Manhattan, Twitter will have to pay high server costs as well as invest in significant engineering resources.

“Rebuilding has its own costs and would delay our work on other more impactful offerings for our developer community. After talking to several of the top customers affected, we chose to not continue the feature,” Twitter said in a blog post.

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Aside from the cost, the platform is becoming even more protective of its API. According to Twitter, the “count API” has never existed as part of its public, supported, and documented API endpoints. Additionally, the platform doesn’t think the tweet button is reflective of content performance.

“This count does not reflect the impact on Twitter of conversation about your content – it doesn’t count replies, quote tweets, variants of your URLs, nor does it reflect the fact that some people tweeting these URLs might have many more followers than others,” Twitter said in the blog post.

Could this update be problematic for Twitter?

Although Twitter removed the share count functionality due to its questionable validity as an accurate metric, Noah Levinson, content strategist at Big Spaceship, thinks that the move could do the platform more harm than good.

“It is understandable why Twitter removed the tool based on its changing development architecture, and if it believes the data wasn’t 100 percent accurate. But considering the outcry from people who used tweet counts, it would make sense for Twitter to bring them back in a new, more accurate form,” says Levinson.

Share counts are all about social proof and are a great way to demonstrate word-of-mouth, he notes. For example, seeing an article with more than 1,000 shares immediately gives the publisher more legitimacy. It gives Twitter more legitimacy as well, because tweet-shares are treated as an effective measurement of popular content. 

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From a publisher’s perspective, Jim Spanfeller, founder and chief executive (CEO) of The Spanfeller Media Group and former CEO of Forbes.com, is surprised that tech companies like Twitter couldn’t figure out how to provide share counts for publishers who want this piece of information.

“At the end of the day, you must do what you have to do to make your platform run smoothly. I understand Twitter’s point of view, but I think the thought process for most publishers is that highlighting the number of tweets was a way of showing their community what others were reacting to, regardless of the depth of involvement from Twitter itself,” Spanfeller says.

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For the time being, many publishers – including BuzzFeed, Mashable, The New York Times and ClickZ – are keeping the tweet share button. But a button without a share count doesn’t seem very useful. On the flipside, users will no longer be influenced by what is trending, and will instead share content that truly resonates for them – after all, sharing is caring.

Is that enough for publishers to keep the tweet button? Big Spaceship’s Levinson thinks so, but believes Twitter will experience some negative repercussions in the long run.

“Any platform that pays less attention to its content creators will, in return, be deprioritized. If Twitter makes it more difficult for publishers to share content, they will focus their efforts elsewhere – like Facebook,” he notes.

What can you do to combat the change? 

Everything comes at a price and so do Twitter’s share counts, apparently. The company notes that full-archive search counts are available from Gnip, which is very convenient considering Twitter bought the data business early last year. 

Alternatively, our sister publication Search Engine Watch notes that Buzzsumo has a Chrome extension that could help fill the hole, for a little while at least. And there are some other options using IFTTT with Twitter Search and Google Spreadsheets to retrieve search results to figure out approximate share counts.

We get that Twitter wants to claim the throne in the API kingdom, but killing off a major part of its business that exists on millions of websites seems like a hasty and half-baked decision.

What do you think of this move? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Homepage image via Flickr.

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