At last year’s CES, Twitter introduced its first public prototype app, twttr — dubbed “little T” internally at Twitter. The app allows Twitter to develop and experiment with new features in the public, to see what works and what does not. The app’s main focus, to date, has been on making threaded conversations easier to read. Now, the company is ready to graduate the best of twttr to the main Twitter app.
“We’re taking all the different branches — all the different parts of the conversation — and we’re making it so it’s all in one global view,” explained Suzanne Xie, Twitter’s head of Conversations, speaking to reporters at CES 2020. “This means you can easily understand, and get a pulse of what’s happening in the conversation,” she added.
When the changes roll out, you’ll be able to see when the original tweet’s author is replying within a conversation thread. Twitter will also highlight people you’re following and people who are verified.
This way, Xie continues, “you can understand who is talking to who in a conversation.”
In addition, Twitter will release other features that build on top of threaded conversations to the public, including how the user interface reacts when you tap on a reply.
On twttr, when you tap into a reply within a conversation, you get more information about the tweet in question. You can also reply in-line to the tweet. And the reply itself is shaded to differentiate it from the surrounding tweets, when selected.
Threaded conversations also hide some of the replies to keep the conversation more readable — but you can click a link to load more of the replies as you scroll down. Twitter says it personalizes which replies are shown and hidden based on things like who you follow, who you interact with and people you’ve interacted with in the past.
“These are pieces of making this global conversation easier to use — so you don’t have to tab to new screens and go back and forth,” Xie explained.
Despite the initial excitement around Twitter’s new app, twttr, some felt the company didn’t take full advantage of having a public experimental playground. Few other new features beyond threaded conversations were tried out on the testing platform.
To some extent, Twitter’s plans could have been impacted by changes in twttr’s leadership. Twitter in August acquired Xie’s startup Lightwell. Meanwhile, Sara Haider, who had been leading the charge on rethinking the design of conversations on Twitter, which included the release of twttr, announced that she would be moving on to a new project at the company after a short break.
With twttr’s threaded conversations feature making its way to Twitter.com, the plan now is to use twttr to experiment with other conversational features.
For example, twttr may be used to try out new features in the incentives space — meaning, how small tweaks to Twitter’s user interface can influence different types of user behavior.
“Going forward, we’re investing and making a concerted effort, as we try new features and as we change different mechanics, to [determine] what we’re incentivizing and what we’re disincentivizing,” said Xie.
For instance, changing the prompts that Twitter displays when a user goes to compose a tweet or a reply could influence how they choose to respond. This is only one example of the sorts of things Twitter aims to test with Little T, as it’s called.
Twitter says the new threaded conversations features will begin to roll out on Twitter for iOS first, followed by web then Android, sometime in Q1.