Twitter wants to completely redesign the way conversations look on its platform.
During an event at CES on Wednesday, the company detailed new features that could drastically change the way people share and talk to one another on its platform.
The updates include a new design for threads, meant to make it easier to follow conversations as they unfold, as well as completely new features like statuses and presence indicators that could indicate when someone is online or when someone is typing.
Twitter will start to publicly test these experimental features "in the coming weeks," when it launches a beta program for people who want to participate in the tests. It's a relatively new approach for Twitter to experiment so openly, but the company says all the features are geared toward its bigger goal of improving "conversational health" on the platform.
At first glance, features like status updates or presence indicators showing you're "online" sound much more like what you'd expect from Facebook — not Twitter. But Twitter's director of product management, Sara Haider, say the changes are meant to give people more flexibility. Adding a dedicated status update feature would add more context to tweets, and avoid the need for workarounds like changing your display name, she said.
"It's kind of a help wanted sign that they're hacking around the product to express something that they want to express and give context to what they're tweeting. And so we want to pay attention to that," Haider said.
Another big focus, she said, is trying to make conversations easier for people to follow. Right now, it can be a struggle to follow long threads with many different replies because replies often appear out of order and you need to do a lot of tapping around in the app in order to detangle a conversation.
In order to solve that, the company's testing new designs for replies that would thread tweets together in a way that looks more similar to comments on a reddit post. In one prototype Twitter's testing, discussions that branch off from a reply to a single tweet would instead be nested, making it more clear who is talking to whom. The version Haider showed me also had color coded labels, which would help people more easily identify replies that are most relevant.
"We've spent a lot of time on making sure that people can find what they're looking for when something is unfolding in real time. We're now asking ourselves the question, how do we make this experience even deeper and richer so we decided to focus on conversations."
But ask longtime Twitter users what their top gripes are about the platform and, chances are, they're much more concerned about trolls and abuse than they are clunky reply threads.
"Health is our number one priority, hands down"
During the CES event, Twitter's VP of Product Keith Coleman identified health as the company's top product priority for the coming year.
"Health is our number one priority, hands down. We know that to serve our company's purpose, we need that conversation to be healthy," he said, noting that Twitter has made 70 changes to its product and policies over the last year in order to weed out abuse.
Haider says that all the upcoming updates they're experimenting with ultimately link back to that work.
"It's such an integral part fo our consumer product development process," she said. "As we invest in conversations… we think about how it affects the way we might measure the health of a conversation.
"If a conversation between two people results in mutual likes or mutual blocks, we can kind of gauge does that lead toward a healthy or non-healthy conversation. We can start to measure how our product changes increase health on the platform positively, or if we need to make corrections."