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Twitter wants your help in making conversations less of a mess

The social network -- a "chaotic hellpit" in one observer's phrase -- still has a lot of work to do.


Twitter headquarter's in San Francisco. 

James Martin/CNET

Following a conversation on Twitter can feel like a chore, especially if multiple users are replying to a tweet at the same time.

Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey saw firsthand how hard it is to do that last week when he answered questions via tweets from Recode co-founder Kara Swisher for more than 90 minutes. Walt Mossberg, a veteran tech journalist, remarked on Twitter that the interview was "a living example of how Twitter is a chaotic hellpit."

The social media company is trying to fix this problem with help from its own users. On Wednesday, Twitter said it is accepting applications for a program that will allow users to test new features aimed at making it easier to find and follow conversations.

Twitter has been exploring adding color to replies. A person who sends out the initial tweet will see their responses in gray, while their followers' replies will be in blue. The company is also looking at a new design for replies along with giving the replies a rounded appearance to make the conversations appear more "chat-like." Some of the changes are more subtle, like indenting a reply to tweets and presenting a reply without sharing options and other details unless a user taps to see them. 

Making the site easier to use could help Twitter keep people there and attract new users, but the company still faces an uphill battle. Like other social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter is also grappling with bigger problems including harassment and election meddling. Twitter saw its monthly active users drop to 321 million in the fourth quarter from 326 million in the third quarter amid a crackdown of fake accounts. Twitter said earlier this month it will stop releasing monthly active user numbers and instead report its daily active users (126 million).

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A Twitter spokesperson said the company has been working for some time on ways to make it easier to follow conversations, but Dorsey's recent interview "reinforced the need for conversations improvements." Twitter tweeted a link Wednesday to an application for what it calls the "conversations prototype testing program."

The company is looking for a variety of users to test the new features, including those who use Twitter often and others who don't. Most of the participants will be English or Japanese speakers, according to the company. Users will give feedback through a form or tweets.

The features Twitter users are testing may not be released to the public or could change. If the testing is successful, it may be months before any of the features are released to the public.

"These changes are meant to be approachable, chatty, and easy to understand – or maybe they're not," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. "You tell us."