Is Twitter getting rid of hashtags? @replies? No. But yes.
Is Twitter possibly thinking of new ways to go about organising Tweets by topic and/or presenting replies in a useful, easy-to-read fashion? Possibly.
The Twitter world went all abuzz this week following reports from that the site's head of news partnerships, Vivian Schiller, had described hashtags and @ symbols as "arcane" elements of the service. More importantly, she suggested that the site was "working on moving the scaffolding of Twitter into the background."
To most, that description read like this: Twitter is getting rid of hashtags and @replies.
Twitter representatives, asked to clarify Schiller's responses, had this to say:
"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."
And Schiller, also asked to clarify, specifically commented that Twitter is not planning to phase out hashtags and @replies. Rather, "there's a lot of creative thinking going on around how to make Twitter more and more intuitive. Watch this space," she tweeted.
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So what might Twitter be up to, then? It's possible that the company could be looking to wrap replies and hashtags directly into the interface of a given Tweet itself, similar to how it pulled the more archaic "RT" text out of users' updates and into their own little "retweeted by" descriptors above said retweets on the service.
However, Buzzfeed has gotten its hands on some screenshots that indicate Twitter is in fact eliminating @replies within the alpha test group for its Android app. These @replies are automatically deleted when a user includes them in a comment; the user's comment is instead threaded into a conversation, graphically – which seems to work well for one-on-one conversations. We're not quite sure how eliminating the @reply will make larger conversations among groups of users (whose @replies can change, depending on who you're trying to talk to at any given point) less confusing.
Of course, Twitter could also just do threaded conversations message board-style, we suppose. Nevertheless, confusion continues: Twitter might not be removing @replies, claim representatives, but it sure seems to be doing so. Or, at least, testing out the possibility.