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Twitter tries to appeal to new users with conversation feature

August 29, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • "Twitter should be usable by those who know the shortcuts and those who don't," Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey said in 2011.
"Twitter should be usable by those who know the shortcuts and those… (Jessica Guynn / Los Angeles…)

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Twitter looks for some wind underneath its wings for an initial public stock offering, it is rolling out changes to its service to make it friendlier to and more popular with new users.

The latest new feature, which rolled out this week on and in Twitter's iPhone and Android apps, was instantly and widely panned by Twitter veterans.

It’s a threading feature that makes it easier to find and follow conversations on Twitter (basically making conversations more like they are on Facebook).

How it works: When someone you follow tweets and one or more people you follow reply, Twitter shows you the conversation with thin blue vertical lines connecting the tweets. That means that tweets sometimes get pushed up in your timeline, appearing out of chronological order.

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The conversation threading was quickly dubbed "blue lines" and impassioned gripes flooded Twitter. Tweeted BuzzFeed: "These blue lines =(" At last count, that tweet was retweeted 104 times.

Even if power users are blue, the blue lines probably aren't going anywhere.

With this new feature, Twitter is trying to address a fundamental problem: When new people sign up for the service, they get easily confused by it, getting lost in the rapid torrent of tweets.

Making matters worse for newbies, Twitter has over time developed its own language of "retweets" and "favorites," insider short cuts such as putting a "." in front of "@" handles to make sure everyone sees something you tweet to that person.

For the less tech savvy, Twitter almost requires a manual or tutorial to learn how to use it. It just isn’t as simple or as intuitive to figure out as Facebook, and it often takes some work to follow conversations taking place on Twitter. Another problem in attracting new users: Twitter doesn't feel as personal as Facebook does.

The result: Many people don’t take part in conversations and instead just give up on Twitter. And that may be the single biggest challenge facing Twitter.

If the company wants to show Wall Street its growth has not stalled and that it's a good candidate for an IPO in early to mid 2014, it’s going to have to attract new users and get them to hang out (and hold conversations).

Back in 2011, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey talked about the importance of cutting through the jargon such as hashtags (#) and @ handles to help new or casual users get the hang of the service as easily as power users.

"Twitter should be usable by those who know the shortcuts and those who don't," Dorsey said.


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