Could Twitter’s Hashtags and @-replies Soon Be Extinct?

by Peter Thomas Ricci

The world of social media is one of constant transition, but could Twitter abolish its two most familiar features?

The technological world is constantly in-flux, with companies always on the lookout for ways to improve and simplify their services – and, of course, to lure more people to use those services.

Such adaptations can be headache-inducing for those of us attempting to use the services for professional means, and recent hints from Twitter have some fearing that we could be seeing a dramatic upheaval on how we interact with the site, with both hashtags and @-replies on the hypothetical chopping block.

A World Without the Hashtag?

Indeed, the quasi-announcement of the hashtag/@-reply was big news in social media circles, given that both symbols are undoubtedly the most recognizable features of Twitter (for the uninitiated, the @-reply is the only way to direct your tweet to another Twitter user, and the hashtag gives a word greater searchable power).

Here’s what happened: Vivian Schiller, Twitter’s head of news, gave a speech on March 17 at the Newspaper Association of America mediaXchange 2014 event in Denver; according to Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor in chief, Schiller not only stated that hashtags and @-replies were “arcane,” but that Twitter was working on ways to move such “scaffolding” to “the background” of the site in favor of a cleaner look.

Though Schiller did, according to Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff, deny that Twitter was phasing those features out in subsequent tweets, she did write that there was “a lot of creative thinking” towards “how to make Twitter more and more intuitive.”

Publicly Traded Innovation in the Tech World

Of course, the story does not end there. Sifting through Twitter’s most recent earnings call in February, Ulanoff uncovered this nugget of a quote from company CEO Dick Costolo:

By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background, we can increase high-quality interactions and make it more likely that new or casual users will find this service as indispensable as our existing core users do. And we took initial steps in that direction with the introduction of media forward timelines and in-line social actions in October, and we’re already starting to see early signs that those initiatives are working well.

So basically, it’s likely that Schiller was not misquoted during that speech, and that Twitter is indeed looking into some marked visual overhauls.

Also, one important thing to keep in mind is that Twitter is now a publicly traded company, and since the start of the year, its stock has fallen more than 33 percent. Public companies are forever at the whim of their investors; could Twitter be contemplating those visual changes to appease investors, to show that they are the kind of innovative, forward-thinking company that deserves investor cash? Time will tell.

Or we should say, #timewilltell.

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