I am in a test for Twitter’s new @ reply design and it is a mess

Disclosure: Everyone and their mother has an opinion about stuff Twitter is doing wrong. This one is mine.

Twitter is testing a new design of the @reply that is intended to ‘clean up’ the conversation view by completely removing usernames from tweets. I’m in the test bucket (a group of users that Twitter is having take the features for a spin to see how they react) and it is a mess.

Here’s an example of the new reply setup:


This is a reply to a bunch of people, good luck figuring that out.

Another example is in the header image I put above this article. Am I involved in that conversation? Who else is that is not pictured? Who knows?

There’s a bunch of weird, junky stuff going on with this choice. Here’s a few things:

  • Tiny, lighter text means ‘don’t look at me’, so it takes extra attention and more cognitive load to even realize you’re in a conversation or replying.
  • Seeing everyone in the conversation now requires noticing and tapping on the ‘others’ link in a reply, revealing an additional pop up pane with the participants.
  • If you reply to multiple people you are presented with only the last person’s name, and that is what appears in the reply chains that people see in their own timelines.
  • The new configuration makes it much more difficult to ‘remove’ or ‘drop’ someone from a canoe (an ongoing conversation). This courtesy drop is really useful when conversations fork or get more involved than the original parties were in for. It’s three taps deep now, rather than just deleting the username from the text of your tweet.
  • Additionally, Twitter, which has an enormous amount of problems with abusive tweets and trolling, has decided that it is a good idea to make it harder to see if someone who has been trolling you is in a reply chain before you respond to a tweet. Just as in regular conversation, you should be able to be fully aware of who it is you’re choosing to speak to before you do so — not as some sort of surprise jack-in-the-box of sadness and misery.
  • When you get notifications, the ‘others’ text isn’t even there, making it hard to see that you’re involved in a conversation at all.
  • Third party clients handle this poorly, making conversations appear even more confusing.

The solution for this mess should probably start with removing the user names from the character count but leaving the actual user names themselves. Much in the way that a link (eventually, still not implemented, lol) or photo is added and appears in the tweet but does not count towards the character count.

The argument against this is that ‘normals are confused by ‘@ names’. I disagree. I think that this may have been an issue early on but enormous swaths of people have been familiarized with usernames by the huge audience for tweets on mainstream media, TV and the web, as well as in pop culture like Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean Tweets segments and on and on.

People understand usernames as names. Removing iconography like profile pics or ‘@name’s’ from the tweet deletes important context and creates confusion where there is no need.

I understand completely that this is just a test of something Twitter might do. I am just encouraging them very strenuously not to. If they want to make conversations more friendly, I’d suggest a nested, forum-like response thread.