Twitter Update Hides Likes and Retweets, Is This the End of The Ratio? [Update]

March 14 Update: While early hands-on reports on the twttr protoype app describe engagement metrics on tweets as hidden, Twitter offered a clarification to Newsweek Thursday: "We're experimenting in our prototype/testing app with placing engagements behind a tap for replies only. Engagements are not gone from all Tweets, just behind a tap for replies."

The features in Twitter and twttr will be different. twttr is the place where we'll experiment with explorations and ideas (like a new look for conversations) that may or may not come to Twitter.

— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) March 13, 2019

A new prototype version of Twitter debuted at SXSW on Tuesday, highlighting potential changes coming to the service in the near future, including updates that could change engagement and interactions between accounts.

The new prototype app—named "twttr" after the social network's original name—allows testers to check out potential changes to Twitter, introducing new versions of the network before rolling them out to all Twitter users.

One of the biggest prototype design choices aims to encourage conversation by modifying how replies to tweets are threaded. Instead of presenting tweets in one continuous, scrolling feed, now replies to tweets are indented and slightly bubbled, giving a more chat-like appearance mean to emphasize discussion. Subtle color coding has also been added, highlighting replies from followers.

Notice our new prototype? @jack and I named and designed it based on old times. It’s called, “twttr." The bird flew away from the app icon representing: Simplicity. Blue sky thinking. We’re re-working. Not there yet; hence, no logo. Bold and a little weird. #LetsHaveAConvo

— Biz Stone (@biz) March 11, 2019

Another major change to Twitter, prototyped in twttr, alters the social network's two primary engagement metrics: retweets and likes. A twttr feed is now tweets only, with interactions such as the reply bubble icon, the heart icon, the retweet icon and the sharing icon only visible by clicking into individual tweets.

While a seemingly minor design change, Twitter users see the less visible Likes and Retweets as a way of suppressing what's come to be known as "The Ratio," which happens when an unpopular tweet receives vastly more replies—indicating people responding unfavorably—than likes or retweets. The Ratio or "getting ratio'd" has since become shorthand for obviously bad tweets—in 2017, Esquire published "How to Know If You've Sent a Horrible Tweet" explaining how The Ratio works.

The Ratio is beloved by smaller and non-verified accounts in particular, because it's a way to push back against the outsized influence of a high-follower or verified account. Twitter-famous Ratios have been logged against politicians, pundits and corporate social media accounts. The Ratio has even popped up in offline discourse, such as when an audience member shouted "go back to getting ratio'd on Twitter" at billionaire Howard Schultz at a January event, leading Wired to declare Schultz the " Twitter Ratio King " for his unpopular pitches to the public. This has made the potential change to Twitter's feed instantly unpopular on the social network:

i guarantee you they are hiding RT and like numbers because prominent people have complained about "the ratio"

— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) March 13, 2019

Twitter is proposing to hide engagement metrics (likes/retweets) to make the site "friendlier" by removing the appearance of ranking.

Here is the truth: they find the concept of "the ratio" embarrassing to powerful people and embarrassing to be associated with.

— Alexandra Erin Voted For The Winner (@AlexandraErin) March 13, 2019

RIP the ratio, the capricious, cruel but necessary online moral corrective.

— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) March 13, 2019

Hiding engagement metrics and—incidentally or intentionally—eliminating The Ratio is part of a more concerted effort to promote what Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey described (in a tweet, of course) as "the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation."

"We're also actually working on changing the product and changing the policies to improve the health of the conversations," Twitter's head of consumer product Keith Coleman told NBC News on Wednesday.

Twitter's latest update also added an in-app camera to encourage more Instagram-like engagement. The new camera will roll out to iOS and Android users over the next week or so.

Updated March 14 with clarification from Twitter on the potential changes on display in the prototype.