If you have been keeping an eye on the many announcements from Twitter lately, you might well think that the platform has changed more over the last few months than it has have over the last few years. Suddenly, they have been taking steps they previously refused to and testing out numerous new features. So which ones do you need to look out for?
Currently being tested with a small number of users, Twitter has introduced the option to limit who replies to your tweets. CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that the feature:
‘May enable some new use cases like panel discussions or more focused live Q&A’s. Or just a don’t @ me that actually works.’
A key part of the announcement was Twitter would be closely watching for the negative impacts too.
One positive impact of the feature is that it means users could prevent themselves from being the dreaded ‘ratioed’, which is what happens when your tweet receives far more replies than likes or retweets. It could mean people, particularly women, no longer have to scroll through the ‘reply guys’ in their mentions or have to read overwhelming amounts of abusive messages under their tweets.
Because of this, on the face of it, it seems like a relatively uncontroversial feature, but many have already begun to point out the negative impacts it could have.
Often it is figures like politicians that are the most ratioed, and the feature could limit user’s ability to hold them to account on social media. The feature could also be a boost for those looking to spread fake news, as unsuspecting users will not be able to look through the replies of an inaccurate tweet to see others pointing out the falsehoods.
Have you read the article?
‘Sharing an article can spark conversation, so you may want to read it before you Tweet it’. For some android users, Twitter is testing a feature that asks them if they would like to read the article they are about to share before they retweet it. It may not sound big, but this is part of a much wider drive from Twitter to curb misinformation and dangerous misrepresentation on the platform, which it has often been criticised for upholding. This feature combined with the fact that Twitter have started including warnings before users can view President Trump’s most inaccurate and offensive tweets demonstrates what has quickly become a visible effort to listen to widespread criticism from activists.
The most recent of the new features that are being tested, audio Tweets allow users to record and Tweet with audio: basically, they are voice notes for Twitter. It is not hard to see how this feature could be great for individuals – the storytelling capabilities are much greater than in a tweet. As anyone who receives or sends long voice notes to friends will know, some stories just can’t be told through text. Without one individual voice behind them, it will be much harder for brands and businesses to capitalise on this. One enormous criticism of the feature is its inaccessibility, as there is no way to easily caption voice tweets. Twitter quickly addressed the criticism, saying ‘we’re sorry about testing voice Tweets without support for people who are visually impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing. It was a miss to introduce this experiment without this support’. An enormous oversight on their behalf, and one that suggests Twitter are almost too eager for users to try out the snazzy new features.
Why is Twitter introducing all these changes?
Last summer, I was invited along with a few others to meet with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and their senior product leads to talk about my own experience of Twitter. The group was specifically asked about our opinion on new features, and how Twitter could be made a better place. Many of those there outlined how the abuse they received on Twitter had made it a less positive experience and highlighted the negative ways in which some used the platform, so it is not hard to see how Twitter came to test a range of new features. They will have got there, at least in part, from what they have heard from users. The three features outlined above are only some examples of the innovation of the last few months, users have also seen changes to how lists and retweets with comments work. Given the careful nature of testing them with a small group of users first, and the criticism levelled at some of them already, it seems likely that not all of the new features will be here to stay.