When I’ve done presentations for people that are new to social media, I’m always a bit surprised to hear they find Twitter confusing. For some reason most folks find Facebook fairly easy to use, but Twitter with it’s crazy use of hashtags and different ways to reply to people has a steeper learning curve. I’ll never forget explaining to one of the smartest women I know why she should have replied to me with an @ message instead of a DM; she didn’t get that there was a difference. After all, both methods could be used to reply directly to me, right?
Twitter struggles with this, if the recent reports of a declining rate of new users is any indication. Instead of an anticipated increase of 400 million users in 2013, only 241 million folks signed up for the service and (interestingly enough) 241 million of Twitter’s 645 million users are active.
Because Twitter is now a public company, of course, they need to work harder at gaining new users. One of the ways they are considering tackling this, apparently, is to decrease that learning curve by eliminating two things that are what us old time Twitter users think of us part of the fabric of the social network @ replies and #hashtags.
Or maybe not.
Here’s all we really know so far, which isn’t much: Ben Smith of BuzzFeed posted the following tweet, sharing what he heard Vivian Schiller, head of news at Twitter, share about hashtags and @ replies:
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) March 17, 2014
He followed that up with this article, which including the following quote from Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo.
“By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background, we can increase high-quality interactions and make it more likely that new or casual users will find this service as indispensable as our existing core users do. And we took initial steps in that direction with the introduction of media forward timelines and in-line social actions in October, and we’re already starting to see early signs that those initiatives are working well.”
You’ll notice that Costolo didn’t mention eliminating @ replies and hashtags directly, and Ben Smith suggests that Schiller let a secret escape when she did mention them specifically. You’ll also see in Smith’s article some screenshots showing that the @ replies are, indeed, being left out of an Android testing group.
I think it’s important to note that replies aren’t going away; simply including the name of the person you are replying to could go away, making the conversation flow a little more conventionally. However, I don’t know what that means for following along on conversations; for instance, I’ll often see two people whose opinions I value mid-conversation on Twitter (although I use Tweetdeck to manage my Twitter account), and will often click to see the entire discussion. I might be less likely to click through if I can’t see at a glance who both people chatting are.
And let’s hope they don’t get rid of hashtags. I know marketers use them and abuse them (guilty as charged, here) but I’d hate to see Twitter lose some of the charm hashtags bring. For instance, a couple of nights ago a rather hilarious hashtag #ruinachildrensbook was making the rounds, and it was funny as could be (my personal favorite: Charlotte’s Web of Lies). That’s the best of Twitter right there, don’t you think?
I’ll try to keep you updated as we learn more. But for right now, it doesn’t look like Twitter is dumping hashtags and @ replies yet.