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As Twitter moves into the next stage of its life (it’s a publicly listed company now, you know), it’s being faced with a task: keep growing.
Unfortunately for the team, Twitter isn’t the simplest service to use — it’s all hashtags and @replies and usernames, which can take a while to get used to. If you’re slightly skittish of the mass of symbols, you may sign up and never come back. That’s not great for Twitter, which has been dealing with investor confidence issues after its user growth started slowing. But it seems the team has a plan.
Twitter is apparently trying to hide at least one more symbol in a trial where users can reply to others without beginning their tweets with the person’s @username. The feature is currently being tested by a small number of users (spotted by Buzzfeed), and allows them to simply respond to a tweet with whatever text they’d like to share. The conversation is still linked by the vertical line which is currently present in Twitter’s mobile apps and desktop site.
Of course, the functionality is still there — it’s just cleaner and simpler. It’s a similar move to the one Twitter made to the retweet function a few years ago, adding a dedicated button and retweet style where previously users had to preface a tweet with “RT”. Including an @ symbol before a username to reply to a tweet is also a user-developed function from Twitter’s early days, which the team seems to be revisiting.
The change in thinking was all but confirmed by Twitter’s head of news, Vivian Schiller, recently, who called @s and hashtags “arcane” features, and said the team is “working on moving the scaffolding of Twitter into the background.” By hiding those @ symbols (and maybe even hashtags in the future), Twitter could become more intuitive for new users.
While Schiller denied that the reply and hashtag functionality would be done away with altogether, she was less precise in her response to questions about what form they could take in future.
— Vivian Schiller (@vivian) March 19, 2014
Long time Twitter users don’t have to get nostalgic for symbols quite yet though. The @ reply trial is just a small one at this stage, and the functionality and may be altered before wide scale release (or axed altogether).