Twitter’s @JOHN Problem

The Problem
I was lucky enough to get on Twitter soon after it launched. One of the rewards was my twitter handle matching my exact first name(@zaid).  While “zaid” isn’t the most common first name, there are enough people with my name and even more people who are friends with people named “Zaid”.  And that is where the problem begins.

Twitter continues to be flooded with new users. One of the first things you learn as a new user is the use of the “@” symbol to mention others in your tweets. Unfortunately, many users fail to mention their friends by their precise username, instead choosing to simply use their name. This results in people like me being flooded with mentions from twitter users’ with friends also named Zaid.  Here’s how this problem looks like in reality:


To be clear, this is problematic for more than just me. It fails for three different people. First, the original person sending the tweet thinks their friend Zaid will see their tweet, not realizing that they won’t because an incorrect username was used. Second, the Zaid for whom the tweet was intended won’t get to see the mention because his username was not used. Third, my own twitter mentions are full of noise…and tweets not intended for me.

Possible Fixes
The question is, how can Twitter ascertain with confidence that a “@WRONGJOHN” problem exists in a tweet? Here’s a proposal…

(1) At the time someone publishes a tweet, look up all the usernames mentioned

(2) Figure out if the user has any prior interaction with each username that is mentioned. Now, I will qualify what I mean by interaction…

(a) An interaction can be user A visiting user B’s profile. Even if user A has visited user B’s twitter profile, we can pretty confidently conclude that if user A mentions user B, that it is the intended user.
(b) An interaction can be user A seeing user B’s tweet appear in his feed. If user A’s twitter feed recently had someone else mention user B, then you can be pretty confident that when user A mentions user B, it is probably the right person.
(c) A non-interaction is if user A mentions user B without having any prior interaction with user B.  When the above users mention my username, I really doubt they have every seen my twitter feed OR seeing me appearing in their feed.

(3) Twitter should figure out if user A has had any interaction with user B and if they haven’t, to show a popup of some sort to make sure that user B is indeed the right “Zaid” that they wish to reach. Here’s a mockup of what this could look like:

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