The Washington Post

Twitter tests a new feature that explains hashtags for you

The Twitter Inc. logo is displayed on laptop computers in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C. in this 2014 file photo. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Don’t know what #tbt or #oitnb mean? Twitter is now trying to explain them through a new trial feature.

Searches for different hashtags will now display an explanation of the hashtag in addition to tweets associated with the hashtag. The new feature, first reported on by the Wall Street Journal, was rolled out on Friday for users of the Twitter app on iPhones. As the screenshots below are showing, #tbt is defined as “Throwback Thursday,” in which every Thursday people post photos from their past, and #oitnb is explained as “Orange is the New Black,” the popular Netflix series.


But it seems like Twitter is giving explanations for only certain hashtags, such as #smh (shaking my head). No explanations are given for hashtags such as #NotOneMore (used to express messages against gun violence in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara shooting that left seven people dead), #ConfessionNight (used by people to tweet out their secret confessions), or #MH17 (the Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed in Ukraine last month).

It’s not uncommon to see Twitter try out new features with a small number of users. The hashtag feature is not available yet for desktop or mobile Android users, which suggests Twitter is still experimenting and may not necessarily roll it out for all users. Twitter could not be reached for immediate comment on the feature. 

The company has been trying to make its user experience friendlier. Twitter can be bewildering to some new users who aren’t sure whom to start following, what to tweet or what different hashtags mean.

Anyone can create a hashtag. The # symbol was originally created by Twitter users as a way to mark topics and keywords that others can then search. For some, hashtags can help them find subjects and tweets they are interested in without having to follow anyone. But for many others who find themselves unfamiliar with hashtags, the symbol and shorthand can be a frustrating element of Twitter — and thus limit Twitter’s growth and adoption.

According to the company’s latest quarterly financial statement, Twitter now has 271 million monthly active users, up 6.3 percent from the 255 million regular users in the previous quarter. Mobile users make up 78 percent of all active users. Revenue for the second quarter of 2014 reached $312 millions, an increase of 124 percent from the same period last year. Twitter’s new product features, such as the service built around the World Cup that provided real-time scoring and match timelines, gave the company a boost in the second quarter of 2014.

But while Twitter’s user base is growing, the rate of growth is slowing.

Despite its strong growth in users and revenues last quarter, the company reported a net loss of $144.6 million. But according to The Washington Post’s recent report on Twitter’s earnings, the company is making more money off each individual user, about $1.60 per every 1,000 views of the Twitter timeline where ads are shown to users. What’s more, Twitter is also trying to monetize people who are not registered users, since these “off-Twitter” monthly active users are growing at a rate of 10 times that of traditional MAUs, according to a BTIG Research.



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