Twitter tweaks its site and mobile apps to make conversations easier

The update is meant to simplify how @ replies are displayed

By Zach Miners
Wed, August 28, 2013

IDG News Service (San Francisco Bureau) — Twitter is updating its site and mobile apps to make it easier for users to carry out conversations on the site and share them with others outside of Twitter.

The updates were announced Wednesday by the social network in a blog post and will start rolling out immediately to Twitter.com and the company's apps for the iPhone and Android-based devices.

The changes are intended to let users more easily follow along and join in on conversations that are typically carried out on Twitter using the "@ reply" function. To date, "such exchanges haven't always been easy to follow," Twitter product manager Jinen Kamdar said in a blog post.

With the update, tweets in a conversation will be connected with a vertical line and will be shown in chronological order. Up to three tweets in a sequence will appear in people's timelines; users will be able to click a link to see all the replies in the conversation, including from people the user does not follow.

The changes, Twitter explained, are aimed at making it easier for users to see conversations as they take place on the site.

The modifications are not groundbreaking, but they do constitute some changes to a feature on Twitter also offered by one of its biggest rivals -- Facebook. On that site, conversations already play out in chronological order, with some number of posts usually hidden, through Facebook's "comment" button.

Twitter declined to comment about the extent to which tools from rivals like Facebook may have influenced Twitter's decision to make the update.

Brian Blau, an industry analyst with Gartner, was more bullish on the update's significance. While Twitter did have some conversation management features before, Wednesday's changes "will reinforce Twitter's unique ability to reach a wide range of people in real time," he said.

Also, the update "will help them better compete with Facebook and other social sites who already have a full features conversation model that includes external embedding," he said.

For instance, another interesting feature included in Twitter's update is the ability to share conversations outside of Twitter.com. Under the changes, conversations on Twitter.com can be shared over email, whether or not the person's friends are on Twitter. On iPhone and Android users will be able to share individual tweets over email, and Android tweets can be shared via direct message as well, the company said.

It is curious that Twitter is providing a way for users to share their interactions outside of the site's walls. But by allowing people to share tweets via email with others who are not on Twitter, the site may be hoping to attract new users.

Facebook introduced embedded posts last month, to bring public posts from Facebook to the wider Web.

Some other new Twitter features were announced Wednesday related to safety. Now, people can report individual tweets for abuse or spam directly from Twitter for Android and Twitter.com, the site said. This feature, which is already available for the iPhone, will be rolling out gradually, Twitter said.

Twitter said it has also improved its site on Android for people who have entry-level smartphones with limited storage, such as the Samsung Galaxy Y, HTC Explorer and Micromax Bolt. For those devices, Twitter's app is now less than half its previous size, the company said, making it faster to download and easier to install.

"We'll continue to work on improvements targeted at entry-level Android smartphones so that Twitter is more accessible to people everywhere around the world," the site said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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