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Twitter tests a new way to label replies

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Twitter is testing a new way to make conversation threads easier to follow, with the launch of a new test that labels notable replies with special icons. If the original poster replies somewhere in the thread, their tweet will have a small microphone icon next to their profile picture. Other tweets may be labeled, as well — including those from users who were mentioned in the original tweet and replies from people you’re already following on Twitter.

These will be labeled with the at symbol (@) and a small person icon with a checkmark by it, respectively.

The new test is the latest in a series of experiments Twitter has been running focused on making its product easier to use, particularly when conversations around a tweet become lengthy.

At the beginning of this year, the company first began a test where it labeled the original poster in a conversation thread as the “Original Tweeter.” That may have been a bit too confusing for some, because a few months later, Twitter changed it to “Author.” It then also added two other labels, for people who were mentioned in the original tweet, and those replies from people you’re following.

These, however, were text labels — meaning they took up valuable screen space on small mobile devices. They also cluttered up the already text-heavy interface with more distracting text to read.

The new icons don’t have that problem. But they’re also small and light gray and white in color, which makes them hard to see. In addition, their meaning isn’t necessarily clear to anyone who doesn’t hang around online forums like Reddit, for example, where it’s common to use a microphone to showcase the original poster’s follow-up comments.

It’s also unclear why Twitter thinks users are clamoring to see this information. Highlighting the original poster is fine, I guess, but the other labels seem extraneous.

While this is a minor change, it’s one of many things Twitter is tweaking in the hopes of making its service simpler and more approachable. It’s also running an experimental prototype app called twttr where it’s trying out new ideas around threaded conversations, like using color-coded replies or branching lines to connect tweets and their responses.

A lot of these changes feel a little unnecessary. Twitter isn’t as difficult to understand as the company believes it is.

At the end of the day, it’s a way to publish a public status update and reply to those others have posted. That’s its core value proposition — not live streaming video, not its clickable newsreels it calls “Moments,” and not its article bookmarking tools. Those are useful and fun additions, sure, but optional.

Instead, Twitter’s challenges around user growth aren’t because the service is overly complex, but because a public platform like this is rife for issues around online bullying and abuse, disinformation and propaganda, hate speech, spambots, and everything else that an unmoderated forum would face.

Twitter tests are live now, but not be showing for all users.

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