Twitter Could Phase Out # And @ Replies
March 24, 2014

#SayWhat @Twitter? Microblogging May Be Doing Some ‘Creative Thinking’ About # And @ Symbols

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Two of Twitter’s trademark features – the hashtag-based categorization and replies using the ‘@’ symbol – could be on the way out, according to comments made by one of the social network’s top officials last week.

Speaking Monday at the Newspaper Association of America’s mediaXchange conference in Denver, Twitter head of news partnerships Vivian Schiller described hashtags and @ symbols as “arcane” elements of the microblogging service and suggested that the website was “working on moving the scaffolding of Twitter into the background,” according to PC Mag’s David Murphy.

Schiller’s comments echo those made by Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, during a recent earnings call, Samuel Gibbs of The Guardian noted on Friday. Costolo remarked that “bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background” would make it easier for new members to grasp the service.

When asked about Schiller’s statement, officials with the social media website told BuzzFeed staff writer Charlie Warzel that the website was looking to “increase high-quality interactions” so that new adopters or casual members would “find this service as indispensable as our existing core users do.”

In fact, the company said “initial steps in that direction” were actually already underway, and that they have been since “the introduction of media forward timelines and in-line social actions” last October. They also reported that there were already “early signs” indicating that “those initiatives are working well.”

Schiller has since clarified that Twitter was not planning to totally do away with its trademark symbols, but that there was “creative thinking” going on about how to make the service “more intuitive.” However, BuzzFeed reportedly received a screenshot from a member of its Android alpha test group app which shows that that user handles have been eliminated in replies to tweets and replaced with a conversation line.

“This is a test version, so it is still subject to change when released to the public, but it’s proof that Twitter is formally testing phasing out at-replies,” Warzel said. However, as SlashGear’s Shane McGlaun points out, “this may be a feature for twitter that never sees the light of day.”

Reaction to the possible removal of the @replies feature is mixed among experts. While McGlaun said that he felt the new version makes it “much easier to read the replies and make the timeline look better,” Murphy countered that while the graphics-only version seems “to work well for one-on-one conversations,” he’s not certain how “eliminating the @reply will make larger conversations among groups of users (whose @replies can change, depending on who you're trying to talk to at any given point) less confusing.”