A couple of weeks back, Twitter revealed, via it's Developer Forum, that it's planning to switch off share counts as part of a change to its widely used tweet and follow buttons. Tweet and follow buttons are used by many web publishers, including Social Media Today, with the share counts used as an indicative measure of popularity - it obviously has no bearing on the content quality itself, but many do use the tweet count figure to get a read on how that piece of content has been received - a social-proof factor, to some degree.
The announcement that Twitter is looking to switch off share counts has sparked much discussion, with industry giants like Jay Baer even weighing in, questioning why the micro-blog giant would do such a thing. Getting a sense of the community angst, Twitter has today released a new blog post explaining the logic behind why they're removing share counts from tweet buttons - and while their reasoning makes sense, it's probably not going to appease anyone fretting over the removal of their tweet numbers.
In a blog post titled 'Hard Decisions for a Sustainable Platform', Twitter has provided several, technical reason why they're moving away from displaying share counts on tweet buttons.
"One of our goals is to build a predictable, dependable platform for you to build your websites, apps, and businesses. We also want to ensure that the products we build are supported by Twitter Engineering. As a result, we design for longevity in order to limit any questions about deprecating APIs. Like you, we have finite engineering resources, which requires us to make choices about which products and public APIs we invest in."
This flags the main reason for the change, that Twitter is moving away from their 'Cassandra' system to 'Manhattan' - a "real-time, multi-tenant distributed database for Twitter scale". The mechanism through which Twitter currently counts tweet shares is through Cassandra, so as part of the migration to Manhattan, it's impossible to keep offering tweet counts, at least not without considerable costs in re-building the system. And while that explanation is quite technical - most of us have no idea how the actual systems work in this regard - Twitter does offer a few other reasons as to why tweet counts have been deemed expendable, and will be cut off as a result.
Noting, specifically, the planned changes to the tweet button, Twitter says:
"The Tweet button counts the number of Tweets that have been Tweeted with the exact URL specified in the button. 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."
So what Twitter's saying, in effect, is that the tweet button isn't really reflective of performance anyway, so its relevance is questionable. Twitter goes on to note that the tweet count has never existed as part of their API endpoints and that most share buttons provided by other social networks don't include counts either.
Of course, the other, logical, reason as to why Twitter might be removing share counts, suggested by several commentators (including myself), is that Twitter may be looking to increase the value of their data. In the original post announcing the change on the Twitter Developers Forum, it's noted that accurate share counts will remain available through Twitter's official data provider, Gnip. While Gnip's prices are not readily available on the website, the service reportedly costs between $300 to $4000 per month, depending on what level of data access you require. By removing free access to such info, Twitter would effectively be forcing publishers to pay in order to keep using tweet counts as an indicative measure.
The other motivation, as noted by Jay Baer, could be to push more users to access Twitter Analytics to gain insights into how their content is being shared on the platform - and once there, Twitter can also prompt users to advertise on the platform, highlighting relevant tweets and opportunities among their audience.
Whatever the true motivation is, we can't know, but Twitter's explanation does provide some additional context behind their decision, which may or may not help users better understand or accept the change.
Worth noting too, the change to Twitter buttons was originally slated for this month - it'll now go ahead on November 20th, 2015.