In March, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone tweeted a screenshot of an iPhone homescreen along that has a message: “Notice our completely new prototype? … which’s called ‘twttr.’ The bird flew away by the app icon representing: Simplicity. Blue sky thinking. We’re re-working. Not there yet: hence, no logo.”
Twitter, predictably, immediately dysregulated in response. “Most moronic design decision ever made.” “which’s horrible.” “Awful.” The most viral reply leaned on a well-liked Twitter trope to poke fun at the platform’s inability to ban bad actors: “everyone: get rid of the Nazis. yall: we got rid of the logo.”
in addition to yet, which was all a misunderstanding. Twitter hadn’t changed its icon at all. which launched a separate app, “twttr,” as an external, public prototype to experiment with completely new features which’s considering rolling out on Twitter itself; a way to test things in public. Stone clarified: “Folks, the bird isn’t going away by Twitter.”
The entire episode was a microcosm of Twitter’s larger problems, some of which which completely new prototype itself will be meant to address: everyone yelling, in addition to no one talking. “Little t” twttr will be a part of the company’s grand plan to treat the platform’s underlying issues, rather than just its symptoms. The idea will be which what which learns by little-t twttr will help big Twitter foster conversations, rather than outrage.
Thanks to its open, freewheeling public platform, in addition to stance on free speech, Twitter has been a hothouse for ginning up disinformation, harassment, in addition to outrage. A lot of these problems were caused, the company’s leadership believes, by product decisions made early in its existence. in addition to in very Silicon Valley fashion, the San Francisco–based company will be right now trying to solve these institutional problems with product fixes, without killing its platform’s open, real-time magic. however which isn’t exactly sure what those fixes are, in addition to which knows which massive modifications to its product, rolled out widely, might even make things worse. So, yes, the company will be fundamentally overhauling its product, however which’s starting with baby steps on twttr.
Over several days which spring, BuzzFeed News met with Twitter’s leadership in addition to watched as twttr’s team worked on its first big push: helping people better understand what’s being said in often chaotic conversations. The team thinks which if people took more time to read entire conversations, which would certainly help improve their comprehension of them. Maybe they wouldn’t jump to react. Maybe they’d consider their tone. Maybe they’d quit yelling all the time.
Or maybe, not even thousands of deeply studied, highly tested product tweaks will be enough to fix the deep-seated issues that has a culture more than 13 years from the doing.
A couple of weeks after Stone’s tweet, in addition to after about 4,700 people had been using the completely new twttr prototype, Twitter senior user researcher Cody Elam was at work, late, looking at a massive spreadsheet. He had spent the past week collecting in addition to reviewing every single piece of feedback — 0 tweets in addition to 1,986 survey responses — by the program’s initial participants in addition to, right now, was tasked with identifying the most salient, important themes among their comments.
The twttr team began by testing what happens if the app more clearly shows who’s replying to whom. They also hid likes in addition to retweet counts — Twitter’s primary incentives — behind a tap to put the primary focus on reply text. right now they were about to see, for initially, what people thought.
Some of which initial feedback said which the bubbly design made Twitter feel more like a chat, in addition to which which was easier to understand who was responding to what. Others were confused by the different colors labeling replies (blue for people you follow, in addition to black for the original tweet’s author). People generally seemed to like the completely new design, Elam deduced, except for one change which received a more mixed response: hiding the metrics.
which wasn’t entirely unexpected. which was a step which they had suspected would certainly not be well-liked, at least at first, however was maybe a necessary sacrifice to nudge its users from the right direction. Some of twttr’s first testers were feeling unnerved about the like in addition to retweet buttons, in addition to their counts, which had been seemingly removed by replies. In a meeting at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters with the 13-person team behind twttr, Elam presented the users’ concerns.
“There’s a critical group of people — 20% or so — who are saying, ‘I prefer the way which likes are displayed from the main app,’” he told the group. “For some people, they feel like which’s more work when they don’t have something to anchor to. Like, if I’m looking at different replies, where should I draw my eye to, in terms of the popularity of tweets?”
While some users said the completely new design made replies “more equal,” others complained they couldn’t gauge the importance of replies without doing more work (which extra tap).
“Twitter already ranks replies based on some of which like in addition to retweet data, in addition to so if which information will be removed, which may be confusing why you’re seeing one reply versus another,” posited Sara Haider, who will be leading the twttr efforts.
A week later, at another feedback review session, Elam told the group which a significant enough number of testers in Japan, Twitter’s additional major market outside the US, also opposed the hidden like in addition to RT counts, however for a different reason. Japan-based user researcher Kiyo Yamamuchi explained which some Japanese users actively avoid engaging with well-liked replies to avoid exposure which would certainly attract attacks or abuse.
With the feedback in mind, Haider challenged the team “to think about which user need to understand which tweet will be more important or worth my time, in addition to see if there are additional ways we can solve which, additional than numbers.”
Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, has been outspoken about removing engagement metrics, because of how they encourage users to be outrageous in order to rack up more likes, retweets, in addition to followers, in addition to prompt readers to look for them. In an August 2018 interview with the Washington Post, Dorsey said, “The most important thing which we can do will be we look at the incentives which we’re building into our product. Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — in addition to I don’t think they are correct anymore.”
Haider in addition to her twttr team are hoping to “nudge” people’s behavior in another way. Their hypothesis: doing the design for replies as minimal as possible, in addition to revealing how the conversation’s participants are related to you, may encourage people to read the entire back-in addition to-forth before they react.
“We have which opportunity to learn about how not having [likes in addition to retweets] could potentially change how people read things,” said senior product designer Lisa Ding. “Does which make you read something which you maybe would certainly have guessed to be well-liked however actually isn’t which well-liked? How does which change the way you interact in a conversation? which’s super interesting.”
In its early years Twitter optimized for engagement, which engagement features (replies, in addition to the like in addition to retweet buttons) in addition to metrics (number of followers, likes, retweets, in addition to replies) help to deliver. So right now which’s trying to shift what which encourages people to do.
Twitter will be not alone in which. Tech leaders across the industry are rethinking the role of their platforms’ incentives, in response to mounting criticism which technology platforms do more harm than Great. Instagram will be running a test where like counts are hidden to followers, however are viewable by the post’s account holder. Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri told BuzzFeed News which the test wasn’t about incentivizing specific behavior however “about creating a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves” in addition to focus less on like counts.
For Twitter, part of the rationale behind running an external-facing prototype with experimental features, in full view of its competitors, will be easing users into the completely new design. “We are fundamentally changing how Twitter works. … We need for people to have some exposure to which,” said Haider.
People typically don’t take kindly to modifications, especially ones which come without warning. In 2009, Facebook users revolted so strongly to the introduction of the News Feed (which some groups called an “invasion of privacy”) which CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally responded, “Calm down. Breathe. We hear you.” So to avoid taking users by surprise that has a big change, in addition to instead of developing a product secretly inside of Twitter’s walls, Haider wants to take users along for the ride: “We need people who aren’t even from the program to read the press articles in addition to think, ‘I am right now mentally prepared with which change.’”
Haider’s team will be considering future features which may be even more controversial than hidden likes. Two ideas they’re exploring: optional “presence indicators” which show people when you’re online or typing, in addition to being able to add a status which lets people know what you want to talk about.
There are many challenges with fixing Twitter, however the primary issue has to do with the form of Twitter itself. which’s an extremely complex product: Every reply will be itself a tweet, in addition to every tweet can be infinitely replied to. Conversations can be hard to read, let alone understand, in addition to which misunderstanding contributes to a lot of the repetitive first responses to tweets, reply dogpiling, in addition to knee-jerk reactions — like the kind which flooded Stone’s mentions — which fuel the platform’s outrage cycle.
One user, @matthewreid, replying to Stone, summed up the issues facing Twitter nicely: “A quick scroll through many of these replies illustrates what made which place I love so toxic. Bullying. Mob mentality. Insufferable knowitalls.” Twitter CEO Dorsey has admitted the same himself: “I also don’t feel Great about how Twitter tends to incentivize outrage, fast takes, short term thinking, echo chambers, in addition to fragmented conversation in addition to consideration.”
“Like, imagine being in a room in addition to talking to a billion people. which’s chaos.”
“Having conversations which anyone can see in addition to anyone can participate in will be a actually awesome super power which needs to feel actually simple despite its complexity behind the scenes,” Twitter product lead in addition to Periscope cofounder Kayvon Beykpour told BuzzFeed News. “Like, imagine being in a room in addition to talking to a billion people. which’s chaos.“
To reduce the chaos, the twttr prototype will be reimagining what Twitter could look like. “What are the mechanics which we allow you to do right at the surface versus one tap away? We are essentially rethinking paradigms which have been the case for 13-plus years,” Beykpour explained.
Much of Twitter’s efforts related to abuse in addition to harassment are incorporated directly into the main Twitter app, however some concepts in twttr’s pipeline are in service of something directly related to harassment: trying to change the tone of replies. According to Dorsey, replies are one of the shared spaces where abuse happens the most on Twitter. In a potential upcoming feature, if you tap on an avatar while you’re reading a reply, a profile card showing more information about the tweet’s author appears alongside their tweet.
Haider explained, “If you can see who you’re replying to, then you may change the tone in which you reply. I know which anecdotally, when people tweet shit to me, in addition to I respond, right? Imagine if in which reply state, you could actually see ‘oh, which person’s a father of two.’”
Beykpour acknowledged which the feature feels “tiny” however said Twitter will be starting to “tug on which string” related to empathy: “How do you surface context around who which person will be, however ideally also give you a little bit of empathy around who you’re talking to? which’s harder to have an uncivil dialogue with someone which you know a little bit more about than if which was an anonymous face.”
“which’s harder to have an uncivil dialogue with someone which you know a little bit more about than if which was an anonymous face.”
He added, “Civility will be one actually important aspect of [healthy conversations]. which’s very difficult for people to feel like they can speak freely, if they don’t feel safe enough to speak from the first place.”
Twitter will be investing a lot of effort into doing the experience on its platform better in addition to more delightful (hello, cherry blossom like button), however which still incorporates a lot to overcome with abuse in addition to harassment, as well as issues which don’t have a simple fix — like tone in addition to, more generally, sexism on the internet. A product overhaul can’t change the primary source of harassment on its platform: its own users.
Like a lot of people, Tracy Chou, the CEO of Block Party, a company working on solving abuse in addition to harassment online, has herself been subject to much targeted harassment on Twitter. “Group direct messages are the completely new spam vector. One of the group threads in my DMs looked like which was a bunch of college students, white men, who seemed to know each additional, in addition to were talking about how easy which would certainly be to murder me,” Chou told Buzzfeed News.
If you have open direct messages, you can’t restrict specific accounts by sending you DMs unless you block them, which Chou says, will be an example of a feature designed to protect users which doesn’t actually work in practice. “Blocking will be aggressive in addition to visible to the additional person. which sometimes will set them off in addition to cause them to harass you more, or use which as a trophy,” she said.
Chou also explained how retweeting in addition to quote-tweeting are product features which can easily be turned into tools of abuse — in addition to counter-abuse: “If some asshole says something racist, sometimes I’ll quote-tweet them, in addition to say “no.” My followers will fight my battle on my behalf. however [quote-tweeting] can also be used to target harassment by people who have a lot of followers in addition to want to sic their followers on a specific individual.” In 2016, conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos was banned for inciting his followers to flood Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones’ Twitter account with racist in addition to demeaning mentions.
For users like Chou, the twttr program hasn’t done much to improve their Twitter experience so far. “I mainly find which harder to read replies,” Chou said. She added which the user image in addition to username size have been minimized from the prototype, which isn’t helpful when trying to identify replies by known trolls. A Twitter spokesperson said the twttr team will be testing different sizing in addition to presentation for avatars in addition to display names.
“Everything these companies do, at first, will be driven by the short-term desire to stake a little share of the attention economy in addition to to engage users just long enough to attract early funding. Only later does the medium view start to matter, in addition to the long view doesn’t matter at all until very late from the game,“ explained Adam Alter, author of Irresistible, a book about the rise of addictive technology. “Most of the modifications Twitter in addition to additional platforms are doing right now are fairly little. They aren’t going to change usage patterns much — however they’re a step from the right direction.”
As someone who has used twttr for over two months, the completely new design does feel like a change for the better. In replies, the eye-catching magenta “author” label makes which easy to scan for additional comments by the tweeter. The “family tree” lines denoting different threads are useful. If there are two “debate me” trolls shouting at each additional in one thread, you can easily scroll down, gloss over the entire back-in addition to-forth, in addition to jump into the next one. In a future iteration of twttr, you’ll even be able to collapse conversations more easily.
however the twttr effort isn’t just about improving the product experience. There’s a business motivation, too. Haider thinks which the final modifications, if in addition to when they are rolled out to the main Twitter app, will ultimately lead to more tweeting: “Obviously that has a better conversational experience, people will use [Twitter] more in addition to they’ll get more value out of which, which will be what we’re trying to aim for.”
While Twitter has been consistently profitable since early 2018, the company said from the first quarter of the year which its number of monthly active users declined to around 330 million, down 6 million by the same time last year, in addition to said which which would certainly stop reporting monthly active users altogether. To keep users on the platform — in addition to advertising revenue flowing — the company needs to figure out how to make its service a nicer, better place for people to spend their time. from the most recent earnings call, Dorsey called the ability to have conversations on Twitter the platform’s “differentiator” in addition to cited the twttr prototype as progress.
As the internet’s free, most well-liked platforms — Facebook, YouTube, Twitter — right now know, people will use products in ways their inventors didn’t intend them to be used, in addition to with software designed to “scale,” its downsides aren’t apparent until millions of people are using which. Twitter will be right now trying to undo the features which caused unseen, unanticipated effects — misinformation, trolling, tribalized outrage — by going back to basics.
Whenever you’re in a room that has a lot of people talking at once, people raise their voices, so they can be heard. As more people arrive, which becomes cacophony. which will be, essentially, what has happened on Twitter: The volume of the conversation has been getting louder in addition to louder for 13 years. Beykpour in addition to Haider’s solution will be toning down the background noise, in addition to helping people focus on the conversation right in front of them. however the longer a problem exists, the more intractable which becomes. Which means which will be ultimately up to Twitter’s hundreds of millions of users to decide whether which will be even possible to have a real conversation amid its din, or if the only answer will be to shout louder. ●