Twitter recently announced two changes to its social platform: Exempting handles from the 140-character limit, and replacing the stock egg photo with a silhouette. Many of my Twitter friends are aghast about both, but I think it’ll work out in the long run.
Exempting handles from the limit
While a Twitter handle can be no longer than fifteen characters, having several in a thread can cause communication issues. Many underestimate the challenge in having 140 characters to communicate information, especially when clarity is needed. Since social media’s dominant goal is starting and continuing a conversation, it’s tough to conduct a lucid conversation with 50-60 characters. While Twitter was not designed for scholarly writing, one should not be forced to abbreviate or truncate their words to make a point.
Among the complaints I’ve seen: Difficulty in seeing who is replying to who, and threads getting bogged down because threads will upwards of thirty people, complete with emojis and GIFs.
As far as the “who is reply to who,” it’s as simple as looking at the tweet itself:
You can see above that Governor Jim Justice is replying to both @WVGovernor and @WVaChamber. It appears the same way on mobile devices. Once the thread goes beyond two users, it will simply say, “@WVGovernor and X others.” As threads increase and you want to see who you’re jumping in with, you can tap/click the “X others” text and it will give you a listing.
I can understand that it might be strange to not see the flurry of handles preceding your message, but if you go from a visual standpoint, it’s easier to compartmentalize them above the message. If you want to untag someone, you reply to the message, tap on the blue text above the message box, and untag who you need to. It won’t allow you to untag the person you’re replying.
I see this paying off in a few ways:
- Instead of seeing the individual handles in the thread, it’s tucked in a small section, and is less obtrusive to the user who just wants to read the message. I’m sure most reading this are doing so from a mobile device. Are you using the Twitter app? Have you be in a thread of more than fifteen people? If you answered “yes” to both, it must be a relief not to read a tweet inundated with blue usernames, bloating the message.
- Following multiple users just became much easier. Instead of tapping/clicking on each user’s handle to bring up their profile, you can now tap/click on the “X users” to bring up a list of users in the thread, and follow them in bulk. You still see their profile, making it possible to do a quick vet before following.
- Groups get larger as conversations expand over time. The more people added to the conversation, the more networking is accomplished. As you are reading a replied-to tweet, remember that the first handle is who was replied to.
Phasing out the egg for the silhouette
The iconic egg was always the indicator that the either the user hadn’t uploaded a picture, or that they were new to the network. For any website that allows people to register an account, the default avatar has become the silhouette.
It’s no secret that the egg symbol has become widely associated with users who engage in bullying and abusive behavior. In most cases, when I’ve been subject to it, a cursory profile shows me that the person has a low following and follower count. The user doesn’t bother with a picture because they created the account with malicious intent.
It’s my opinion that Twitter’s intention was to bring them in line with other social networks that use a silhouette, but because many of the abusive accounts on the network happened to have egg avatars, it became easier to claim that they were trying to address the issue of abuse.
How will it pay off in the end?
- From a personal standpoint, when I create a new account on a site that uses the silhouette, my instinct is to give it a picture. When I see unbranded accounts on any social platform, I am less likely to interact.
- While an account must begin with a silhouette, the average user with good intentions is going to brand their account and use their name. They also confirm their accounts to appear more legitimate and trustworthy. Users with malicious intentions will create the account, not brand it, potentially use a fake name, and will proceed with their attacks; they don’t care who reports them or blocks them.
- Combine the change with the ability to mute tweets from unbranded accounts, and it does dial down some of the abuse. People who are determined to cause trouble at any cost will find ways to do it, but for the average internet troll, it takes the oxygen out of their plan.
Will these two changes make Twitter run more effectively? It might make the user experience more visually appealing, but I’m not optimistic that it will lead to improvements in overall service.