Before Twitter was Twitter, it was “twttr.” And this week, in a nod to its original project name and the first-ever tweet from founder Jack Dorsey, the company announced another twttr, a prototype-only space for select users to beta-test new features. (You can apply here to become a beta tester.) Presumably, some of these features will eventually be incorporated into the platform, while others will never see the light of day.
The first batch of twttr-testing features, launched this Wednesday, makes long conversations more reader-friendly by incorporating a different color-coding system and nested replies. Also, as has become common on the internet, design elements are more rounded, and reply tweets resemble chat bubbles, in contrast to the straight line that currently shoots down a feed to direct users toward the next tweet in a conversation. Twitter (er, twttr?) may also choose to hide some response tweets in order to highlight only the relevant parts of the conversation.
The most notable update in this test changes the immediate visibility of Twitter engagement. In the prototype, faves, replies, and retweets are hidden; users have to click on a tweet to pull up options to interact with it. In effect, this new feature would prevent users from mindlessly scrolling and tapping through Twitter. (Which perhaps is not such a great loss.) But more importantly, this would mean that “the ratio” would not immediately appear when viewing a tweet in your feed.
The ratio, as it’s become known in recent years, is how the Twitterverse judges a tweet. Back in March 2017, a user pointed to a much-derided tweet from then-representative Jason Chaffetz, who as former chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform had declined to investigate President Donald Trump’s alleged conflicts of interest. Chaffetz’s tweet garnered 108 likes, 23 retweets … and 701 replies. The disproportionate number of replies over likes and retweets immediately signaled public opinion to the tweet. Or as @85mf, the user who originally pointed this out, put it: “That is the ratio of someone who fuuuuucked up.”
Soon, there were Twitter accounts dedicated to identifying and surfacing tweets with bad ratios—and “ratioed” itself became recognized by many as a verb. (Merriam-Webster featured “ratioed” in its “Words We’re Watching” column.) Deadspin’s David Roth found he could line up the ratio with baseball stats, and political data science organization Data for Progress made a ratio tracker for senators’ tweets. Everyone has fun with the ratio, with the obvious exception of those being ratioed.
That’s because the ratio is delightfully simple, a quick and quantifiable way to visualize victory—or, more often than not, celebrate someone’s absolute failure. Much of Twitter usage is predicated on schadenfreude, and the discovery of the ratio was an extension of this. The twttr prototype will obscure the ratio and could have the effect of minimizing the importance of tweet-related statistics. (Perhaps Twitter’s new direction has something to do with a recent conversation between Dorsey and Kanye West, in which the rapper complained that these numbers can have “an intense negative impact on our self-worth.”)
Of course, these changes aren’t final; the beta test is simply a look at what could happen—and even if the changes go through, the ratio isn’t being axed, it’s simply being hidden. But it makes sense that Twitter might want to take some attention away from stats that serve mostly to identify people who so spectacularly failed at using the platform that one glance at their tweet makes it immediately obvious how stupid, wrong, or cruel they’ve been. The ratio rejoices in negativity, and that sort of revelry is what Twitter is desperate to curtail.
But maybe they should get rid of the Nazis first.