Twitter tries out new feature to corral hashtags running rampant

The company is describing the hashtags in an update to its iOS app to give those not in-the-know some insight into what they mean.

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Actor Julianne Moore shares a hashtag railing against gun violence earlier this year. Julianne Moore/Twitter

Twitter has started testing a new feature that provides greater insight into the popular hashtags working its way across the site.

When some users open their mobile Twitter apps on Friday, they might find Twitter testing a new feature that shows a hashtag and right underneath it, its meaning. The Wall Street Journal, which saw the feature in the wild, posted a screenshot, showing searches for different hashtags and their meanings underneath.

It appears the feature is designed to provide some context for those who would otherwise not know what #tbt (Throwback Thursday) or #oitnb (Orange is the New Black) would mean.

The feature is apparently only in its initial testing phases. Twitter commonly tries out new features with a small number of users to see how they play in the wild. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that they will be rolled out worldwide and become standard features in its apps.

Still, hashtags, which help users find tweets on subjects they're interested in from users they don't necessarily follow, have become increasingly popular on the service, with most tweets now containing the descriptors. It's not clear how Twitter is using the hashtag feature and whether it will apply only to more popular hashtags or any that might come along.

Any user can create any hashtag, so it seems rather infeasible that Twitter could identify the meaning of every single one. Based on the information shared by the Journal, it appears to be limited only to popular hashtags.

Twitter has been hounded by some analysts and investors who have said that its service is too difficult to use for novices that want to try it out. Perhaps the addition of a hashtag description addresses that.

The service currently has 271 million regular users, according to the company's latest quarterly financial statement, up 6 percent from the previous quarter.

CNET has contacted Twitter for comment. We will update this story when we have more information.

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