Twitter Eliminating Hashtags and At Symbols?

Andrew Klips  |

Holy @##@! Twitter (TWTR) may get rid of hashtags and @ replies? The social media website has made the two characters famous as a key component for microbloggers finding and replying to other members and connecting to topics, but some concerns have been raised this week that they may not be integral to Twitter one day.

As first reported by BuzzFeed, Vivian Schiller, head of news at Twitter, called hashtags and at-replies “arcane” when speaking in Denver at the Newpaper Association of America’s media Xchange conference this week, saying that the company is “working on moving the scaffolding of Twitter into the background.”

As it stands today, a hashtag is used to identify and track a particular topic and the “at” symbol is used with a member’s Twitter handle to connect a tweet to another account. Changing some syntax would likely make it easy to see the @ symbol disappear and not be a big deal, but Twitter without hashtags would certainly seem odd.

Vivian Schiller said Wednesday on her Twitter feed that the symbol-methods are not being completely phased out. The comments on her page are mixed, with several members saying changes will ruin Twitter if they make it more like Facebook (FB) .

San Francisco-based Twitter is running a test right now on its Android alpha test group app to eliminate the need for @ being used before a handle. For example, “@EquitiesNetwork” would now simply be “EquitiesNetwork” if the test becomes the new rule.

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Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said during a Feb. 6 Q4 earnings call said that the company was looking to make some changes to bolster usage. “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,” Costolo said during the call.

He added that user interaction as measured by favorites and retweets was up more than 35 percent since launching the new features last quarter.

For those that are regular Twitter users, hashtags, @ replies, and abbreviations (i.e. IMO, LOL, OMG) are just part of typing a tweet within 140 characters. However, for those not familiar with Twitter, what the symbols mean and how they are properly used can be confusing. In fact, how Twitter works in general can be strange. In many senses, the service is not easily understood at first, something that Twitter has worked on over the past few years, including making the “retweet” button prominent and more intuitive with a one-click function, rather than users typing “RT” to share it with followers.

I have spoken with public companies that don’t use Twitter because they are not comfortable with the tagging system and want to walk on the conservative side of potentially violating any SEC or FDA policies with regards to what they can actually control. In their defense, that matter can be a bit of a spider web and is an ongoing topic of conversations and seminars.

These new changes will not help with regulatory policy, but they may make Twitter a little less awkward for new users and encourage them to stick it out and learn the intricacies, which will only help going forward with generating revenue.


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