What’s Behind Twitter’s Plan To Stop People Yelling At One Another?

Twitter’s management knows that the platform is on the verge of getting completely broken, and all efforts to fix its problems shows how difficult the task is.

In March 2019,  Twitter co-founder Biz Stone tweeted a screenshot of an iPhone home screen along with a message sayingNotice our new prototype?– it’s called ‘twttr.’ The bird disappeared in the app’s icon, representing simplicity and the blue sky thinking. Stone also said that we are still working on the app, just not there yet, hence no logo.”

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 Twitter immediately yelled by the users, as they started making tweets saying that this is the most foolish design any company can ever made. “It’s horrible”, “Awful.” These were the comments, people made on Twitter’s worst decision ever to remove the logo from the app’s icon. One of the most viral replies leaned on a popular Twitter trope indicating at Twitter’s inability to ban bad actors: “everyone: get rid of the Nazis. yall: we got rid of the logo.”

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However,  all this was a misunderstanding, Twitter hadn’t changed its icon at all. The company just launched a separate app, “twttr,” as a public prototype to experiment new features, it is testing out on Twitter itself– a simple way to experiment things in public. Biz Stone clarified, saying  that: “Folks, the bird isn’t going away from Twitter.”

 

The entire controversy was a shadow of Twitter’s larger issues, some of which this new app itself meant to address: everyone yelling, but no one is talking about it. A spokesperson said on the company’s behalf, “twttr is a part of the company’s grand plan to treat the platform’s underlying issues, rather than just its symptoms. The idea is that what it learns from small-t twttr will help big Twitter foster conversations, rather than outrage”.

Thanks to Twitter’s unrestrictive platform and its stand on free speech. The company has been a place for raising up disinformation, harassment, and outrage. However, the company’s leader still believes that all these problems were a result of the product decisions made early in its existence. The company has been seen making efforts to solve these institutional problems with product fixes, without killing the platform’s real-time magic. Twitter is still not 100 percent sure about what those fixes are, and the company knows that any massive changes to its product, rolled out widely can make things even worse. So, it can be said that the company is fundamentally innovating with its products and starting with baby steps on twttr.

For several days, it seems that twttr’s team started working on its first big push: making people understand what’s been said in the conversations. They told people to give their time to read the entire conversations which would help to improve their comprehension about the platform and maybe they would stop yelling all the time, or may they would correct their tone before giving big statements.  Or maybe not even thousands of deeply studied products are enough to fix the deep-seated issues with a platform older than 13 years.

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After a couple of weeks of Stone’s tweet, and after 47000 people tested the new app twttr, the company’s senior user researcher Cody Elam returned to work after reviewing every single piece of feedback– 600 tweets and 1986 survey responses the previous week.

The twttr’s team started by testing what happens if the app will clearly show who is replying to whom. The team also removed retweet counts and likes— Twitter’s primary incentives. The feedbacks of people on the new design were kind of mixed. Some said that the bubbly design has made Twitter feel more like a chat, while others said that it is easier this way to understand who was responding to what. People generally seemed to like the design overall except for one change– the decision to hide metrics.

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The changes that the company made was not entirely unexpected. It was a step that they alleged would not be popular, at least at first, but was maybe a necessary sacrifice to push its users in the right direction. Some of the first testers of the app felt unnerved on seeing the disappeared like counts and retweets. Later in the month, the company held a 13 person meeting at San Francisco headquarters where Elam presented some of the users’ concerns. Elam told the members at the meeting that there is a group of people– around 20 percent who say that they like the app as it previously was, while others say that the new design made replies ‘more equal.’ 

Twitter already ranks replies based on some of that like and retweet data, and so if that information is removed, it may be confusing why you’re seeing one reply versus another,” posited Sara Haider, who is leading the twttr efforts.

A week later another feedback review session was held where Elam told the members that a large number of people tested the app in Japan (one of the major marketing venue other than the U.S) and they seemed annoyed with the hidden likes and RT counts, but for a different reason.  A Japanese user researcher claims that some Japanese users actively avoid engaging with popular replies to avoid exposure that would attract attacks or abuse.

With all the feedback’s in mind, Haider challenged the team “to think about that user need to understand which tweet is more important or worth my time, and see if there are other ways we can solve that, other than numbers.”

Twitter’s CEO kept quiet for a while on the matter of removing engagement metrics from that platform as numbers are the thing which motivates people to rack up more tweets, retweets, and prompt other readers to look at them. Dorsey said in an interview which was held in 2018, “The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product. Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”

Haider and her twttr’s team have different ideas in shaping people’s behavior differently. Their theory says: make the design for replies as minimal as possible and to reveal how a person replying to the tweet is related to you, they think that bringing these changes may encourage people to read the entire conversation before they react.

Haider’s team isn’t done only with removing the metrics from the platform, they are considering future features that can be even more controversial than hidden likes. The two major ideas they are working on: (1) optional “Presence indicators” which will notify people when you come online or start typing something; (2) the idea to add status such that people will know about what are you going to talk about.

There are numerous challenges that one can face while fixing Twitter, still, the primary issue comes with the platform’s itself. Every reply itself is a tweet and each tweet can get infinite replies making the conversation even tougher to read and understand. These misunderstandings in a particular conversation boost up misbehavior, misinformation, reply dog-pilling, and knee-jerk reactions.

Though Haider’s and Twitter’s efforts are not entirely focused upon improving product experience, there is a business benefit too. Haider thinks that whenever the final changes will be implemented on the platform– the company is going to see more tweets as compared to the past. With better conversational experience, people will use Twitter more and get the most value out of it.

Consider that you are in a room full of people, and all of them start talking at once. People start raising their voices so that they can be heard easily.  And with more people joined the platform getting annoying. This is the thing that has happened to Twitter, the volume of the conversation has got higher in the last 13 years and whatever changes the company has decided to make the platform better,  still completely depends on the people using the platform that how they handle their conversation and deal with it.

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