Twitter just announced substantial changes to how tweets work -- namely, removing photos, video links and mentions from the 140-character limit, to help give posts some creative breathing room. Some changes to the way "@" replies work mean you're going to see even more tweets in your feed from people you follow. Most important, the company wants to reduce confusion for new users -- which it sorely needs more of.
But while the social network attempts to streamline and clarify, some of the changes are slightly confusing. After reading the company's brief blog post announcing the news, we have some lingering questions. Do the changes mean unlimited mentions in tweets? (Spoiler: of course not.) Will your followers see all of your reply tweets? Well, that depends.
Twitter is getting rid of the work-around people use to reply to others in such a way that their followers can see the conversation in their feeds. Instead of ".@engadget" when mentioning this site, for example, (which in the past allowed your followers to see the tweet), "@engadget" will now suffice. (One character saved!) Think of this as a "mention tweet," started from scratch. Your followers would see this when the changes come into being.
However, if you were replying to an existing "@engadget" tweet, this would be in a "reply style" and would only be seen by users who follow both you and @engadget -- not all of your followers. (If you want your followers to see a reply, you can take advantage of the new ability to retweet yourself.)
Usernames in tweets won't count against your "reply" character limit, but they will be counted in "mention" tweets. When I put it that way it makes more sense but yes, it's initially a bit confusing. (It's worth remembering that up until 2009, you saw every tweet of someone you follow: the whole Twitter firehose.)
While usernames won't count toward your character count on replies, there's still a limit of 50. A Twitter spokesperson added that while this may change later, this is the current cap. Fine with us: Fifty usernames sounds pretty intense as it is.
Now let's go back to the loss of the ".@username" hack. New tweets that begin with a username will now be broadcast to your followers by default -- even if you only wanted a few people to see it. Sorry, Twitter, but not everything starts with replying to someone else's tweet. With these changes, even if you wanted to make a snarky in-joke to a friend, everyone following you will see it. It's like your hushed, one-on-one conversation in a pub is now broadcast on loudspeakers to everyone else in the bar. Fortunately, Twitter users will probably find ways around whatever features they don't like.
For its part, Twitter will be happy, as these tweaks will almost certainly stimulate more conversation, more retweets, more replies and more likes. The social network could suddenly get very loud. It could make the most vocal Twitter users you follow seem even more vocal -- possibly to a cloying degree. The same could be said for the ability to retweet and quote yourself. We'll reserve judgement until the changes go into effect, but remember: the mute and block buttons are there for a reason.