Twitter opens applications for its beta program, first tests to focus on fixing conversations

Twitter today is
opening up applications
for its new testing program,
first announced at CES
in January. The program potentially can
cover any and every aspect of the Twitter experience, but the first
set of tests will focus on how interactions between people, and
specifically replies, appear on Twitter. They will include a new
design for replies to make it easier to follow a conversation;
rounded shapes on reply tweets; indents to follow responses; hiding
engagement and sharing behind a tap to bring out the content of
replies; and introducing colors to add more context.

We got an
early look at the these features when we saw the beta app in
January
; read on for more on all the features below.

Improving the look and feel of how Twitter works is a tall
order, to say the least.
Many
have pointed out, and the company now admits, that
back-and-forth tweets are too hard to follow. Given that
Twitter’s core premise is that of a platform for conversations,
that not only limits the product’s usefulness, but it potentially
puts off newcomers as well.

These issues recently came to a head when Twitter’s own CEO
Jack Dorsey
attempted to participate
in a tweet-based interview with
journalist Kara Swisher. As their conversation continued,
Twitter’s failings on this front were on clear display. Despite
the use of a public hashtag, people were
confused as to how to track the reporter’s questions and
@jack’s answers.

“This thread was hard,” Dorsey tweeted
at the end of the interview. “Need to make this feel a lot more
cohesive and easier to follow.”

While interviews with major tech execs aren’t an everyday
occurrence on Twitter (yet?), longer conversations with threaded
replies are, and they’ve perhaps become even more prevalent

after Twitter doubled its character count
from 140 to 280 in
late 2017. That change allowed people to share their expanded
thoughts with more nuance, which in turn prompted more thoughtful
replies.

Around the same time,
Twitter turned “tweetstorms” into an official product
,
allowing people to tweet out a series of connected thoughts, each
which invite their own related series of responses.

With all these changes, tracking the growing amount of
back-and-forth has become overly complex, especially when a
conversation has a lot of participants.

That’s the problem the new testing program aims better
understand and eventually solve.

“It’s kind of a new take on our thinking about product
development,” Sara Haider, Twitter’s director of product
management, said in an interview in January. “One of the reasons
why this is so critical for this particular feature is because we
know we’re making changes that are pretty significant.”

Within a separate, standalone app, the company will roll out
experiments that allow the Twitter community to more directly
participate in the early development process. At launch, that means
fixing conversations. But over time, Twitter aims to use this
platform to try out new ideas before they make their way to the
public product.

Fixing conversations could be one of the biggest changes to
Twitter to date, she noted, which is why it’s critical for the
company to get it right.

“We need you to be part of this process, so that we know
we’re building the right experience,” Haider said.

Above: the development build at CES; the new product will look
different, we’re told

Like
the build TechCrunch previewed in January
, the soon-to-launch
Twitter prototype will feature an entirely new design for Replies
where the conversations themselves have a rounded, more chat-like
shape and are indented so they’re easier to follow. It
won’t be the first time
it has tried this out, but softer
edges, it seems, are thought to look more human.

The company isn’t yet sharing images, but says you can imagine
the Replies look more like the chats you see in Direct Messages –
that is, they’re more rounded, but not exactly speech
bubbles.

Engagements, sharing options, and other tweet details,
meanwhile, will also get hidden from view to further simplify
things. You will have to tap on the tweets in order to view them,
Twitter says. Again, the aim here will be to put the focus more on
what’s being said, not to act on it. This is actually an
interesting shift, since so much in social media has been focused
around engagement. Now, Twitter’s going to see if taking away
some of those engagement nudges will, essentially, keep people
around longer.

Above: Engagements are hidden on the development build seen at
CES

Making conversations color-coded to highlight the tweets from
the original poster as well as those tweets from people you follow
is a straight play at giving more visual cues to the reader of a
conversation. “Reader,” we think, might be the operative word
here.

One of Twitter’s big issues with conversations is that they
can be too noisy when too many people get involved. One solution to
that might also be to try to think of how that might get limited,
not just so that only certain replies are seen, or perhaps not all
people can reply. This turns Twitter into a reading-first, not
engagement-first experience, which is why making those replies
easier to read is so important.

In the development build we saw last month, those colors were
overly saturated for testing purposes. In the prototype, they’ve
been dialed down. Now, people you follow will be in blue and the
responses from the original poster are gray.

The reply highlighting is now just a shadow line along the
reply, as opposed to the entire reply being colored, Twitter tells
us.

The company says it will only accept a couple thousand of
testers into the beta program. But unlike prior beta programs,
testers aren’t under NDA. Instead, they’re encouraged to tweet
about the test and discuss the changes with the broader Twitter
community so more people can weigh in with their thoughts.

In addition, testers will be able to submit feedback through a
closed form or they can just tweet to Twitter’s teams.

The tweet-and-reply system has been a thorn in Twitter’s side
for years. Because Twitter was originally designed a short-form,
SMS-like platform, it never anticipated how it would evolve into
the discussion platform it has become today.

The company has tried in vain to figure out how to simplify
things for users for years. For example, it added
connecting lines
between tweets and responses,
made @usernames
 in replies a part of the tweet’s metadata,
and even
changed the Reply icon
itself. Recently, it added
an “original tweeter” badge
 to conversation threads,
too.

The company says it will mostly invite English and Japanese
speakers to the testing program. Participants must follow the
Twitter Rules to be invited. However, they don’t necessarily need
to be longtime Twitter users. In fact, the company tells TechCrunch
it aims to have a range of people involved, from those who don’t
use Twitter often to those who use it consistently.

Those interested in applying to the beta can do so from the
tweet posted by the @TwitterSupport account or can use
this link.
 If accepted, users will receive an email informing
them of the next steps.

Source: FS – All Tech News 2
Twitter opens applications for its beta program, first tests to focus on fixing conversations