Photo: Matt Rourke (AP)

Twitter could look very different very soon.

Last week we found out that Twitter is mulling a redesign, and early screenshots teased a look that was surprisingly Facebook-esque. Now we have a better sense of what those changes could actually look like.

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TechCrunch got a glimpse at some of the features that Twitter is floating in a new beta test program. Launching in the next few weeks, a couple thousand test users will get a separate app where they can try out new features and discuss their experience with other selected users. Twitter plans to monitor how these people use the experimental features to figure out what people like and hate. It’s not clear how Twitter plans to select its test users.

According to TechCrunch, these test users will be able to tweet publicly about their experience with the new features. This way, Twitter can presumably gauge public reaction to potentially controversial changes before updating the main app.

Twitter’s product management director Sara Haider told TechCrunch that with this approach to beta testing, these early users could have a significant influence on the features that Twitter may wind up changing.

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One feature that TechCrunch noted, which is already stirring some strong opinions, is color-coded responses inside threads. Twitter says these colors are meant to help users easily distinguish the difference between the original poster, people the users follow, and people they don’t follow.

This could help users navigate conversations so they can focus on the people they know and the conversation initiator. TechCrunch reported that the color scheme shown in their early-peak photos will be “dialed down” when or if the feature launches, however some observers have already expressed that it looks like a “colorful mess.”

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Another change that Twitter is playing with is algorithmically-sorted responses. Twitter could, for example, start showing replies from strangers lower down in conversations. Twitter could also tweak the way those replies look so they’re easier to identify.

Twitter is also testing hiding the favorite-heart icon, retweet icons, and reply icons, reportedly in an effort to streamline the appearance of replies. These icons would only appear once you have tapped on a post. So when a user is cruising through tweets, they don’t see all the clutter. If they want to engage, they can tap the tweet and then have the option to like, retweet, or reply.

Twitter is reportedly also considering status update options, so users could post where they are, or share a more general status update like the ones Facebook used to encourage. And Twitter reportedly may test conversation starters—pinned tweets meant to get people tweeting about a certain idea or topic.

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When Haider first teased these changes in a tweet back in August, she said the intention was “to make it feel more conversational here.” But noticeably absent from these potential features shown in the TechCrunch article is any indication of how the company plans to enable people to better protect themselves from harassment and hate speech in these conversations. A Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo that their efforts to make Twitter more conversational are being developed alongside their ongoing efforts to prevent abuse and spam. “We are committed to holding ourselves publicly accountable towards progress in this regard,” the spokesperson said, referring to building “a healthier service.”

So hopefully we’ll be seeing fewer demeaning posts from neo-Nazis, and other substantial changes that attempt to address the most toxic bile on Twitter, instead of just finding these same tweets at the bottom of conversations and highlighted in a different color.

[TechCrunch]

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