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New year, new Twitter.
The social media giant is testing out a redesign, complete with new tweet formats and status availability. The Twitter update, in beta testing, appears to pull inspiration from other social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. In updating, Twitter aims to shift the site in a more “conversational” direction, but with its unending issues with trolls, these changes may not be as welcome as Twitter thinks.
— Twitter (@Twitter) January 13, 2014
In a late August Tweet, Twitter’s Director of Product Management Sara Haider requested feedback on some of the features the site was considering implementing. Among them were indented replies, color-coded replies depending on whether you follow someone, and even speech bubbles. All features are intended to increase Twitter’s “conversational” appeal, likely in hopes of ditching its reputation as a breeding ground for harassment and trolling.
hey Twitter. we've been playing with some rough features to make it feel more conversational here. presence and reply threading. still early and iterating on these ideas. thoughts? pic.twitter.com/3U3NvpHWPy
— sara haider @ CES (@pandemona) August 31, 2018
Along with its planned formatting alterations, Twitter is considering status availability and “ice breaker tweets,” according to the Verge. Status availability, aimed at increasing that conversational quality the company is reaching for, will place a green indicator next to users names. This will signal when someone is “online and looking for conversation,” according to a tweet from Haider. Twitter is also considering adding tags to tweets so that people can indicate what those obscure references are all about.
In the responses to her announcement of the Twitter update, many people expressed concern over the status indicator, which is not included in this bout of beta testing. “It sets the expectation that I’ll be replying immediately,” Janna Bastow said. “Having an online status would guilt me for spending time reading tweets in the evening when there’s still work to be done.”
this is just a start, but one of the things we've been thinking about is how to signal specifically that you're online and looking for conversation
— sara haider @ CES (@pandemona) August 31, 2018
I use Twitter in both work and personal contexts, and set different expectations on reply time/method to each. Having an online status would guilt me for spending time reading tweets in the evening when there's still work to be done.
— Janna Bastow (@simplybastow) September 1, 2018
There are fewer details regarding “ice breaker” tweets, which will likewise not be part of this round of beta testing. According to the Verge, these tweets are aimed at starting conversations on particular topics. If it chooses to roll them out, anyone will be able to post an ice breaker for others to engage with.
Though there is some support for it online, most people are not thrilled at the prospect of a “new and improved” Twitter.
— Hayley Call Carducci (@HayleyCardu) January 8, 2019
“Alright @Twitter… Nice update,” @HayleyCadu wrote. “Now how can I access my camera roll to post a picture??” Another user requested that Twitter add reaction options to the current single “heart” option.
— Apple Monster (@AppleMonster94) January 5, 2019
Other users were less optimistic. The idea of a “status indicator” seemed to be the least popular aspect of the potential update. “Knowing when someone is online will have much bigger negative effects than positive ones,” @Charlesarthur wrote. “Pile-ons, targeted attacks, all that sort of stuff. Twitter works best because it’s asynchronous. It’s not your ‘friends’ like Messenger.”
Knowing when someone is online will have much bigger negative effects than positive ones. Pile-ons, targeted attacks, all that sort of stuff. Twitter works best because it’s asynchronous. It’s not your “friends” like Messenger.
— Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur) August 31, 2018
i do not want people to know when i am on twitter nor do i care to know when others are online. i don’t think twitter is meant to have conversations like this, if i wanted that i would dm someone. i think any features like this would make the app worse thank you
— amber (@distantseasons) September 1, 2018
Though people are skeptical of the features Twitter is considering, the overarching goal makes sense. In changing up the way people engage on its platform, Twitter is hoping to encourage more positive discourse. Twitter’s current status as the go-to site for hate speech and trolling is pushing more and more people away, so users should be less resistant to change than when platforms like Facebook and Instagram tweak the recipe.
Nahila Bonfiglio reports on geek culture and gaming. Her work has also appeared on KUT's Texas Standard (Austin), KPAC-FM (San Antonio), and the Daily Texan.