According to reports from Twitter users across the service, the social network is experimenting with showing users the exact number of views each tweet receives.
The new feature was first noticed by The Verge and, according to users who've been selected as part of the test (so far it only seems to be rolled out on iOS devices), it looks like this:
Advertisers aside, most users across all social networks are kept in the dark when it comes to the most important engagement metric of all: knowing how many people actually saw what you're sharing.
While plenty of indicators exist (likes, retweets, comments, favorites), the vast majority of users know very little about what happens when they broadcast an update out into the world.
"When you post on a social network, it's almost like trying to give a presentation from behind a curtain. You know who's invited and supposed to be listening, but you don't know who is actually there in the room," Stanford assistant professor Michael S. Bernstein told BuzzFeed last July after releasing a study that showed Facebook users drastically underestimate the size of their general audience, in part because they're afraid to know the truth.
The decision to show users the number of views a post receives is just the latest in a long series of updates by Twitter designed to increase engagement and bring users back each month. The service recently placed favorite, retweet, and follow buttons prominently inside user timelines on its mobile apps, which, according to Twitter, has increased favorites and retweets by more than 35%. This increase in interactions might also be the reason Twitter finally feels comfortable making this type of metric public.
Another look at the view counts below each tweet:
For all the potential for increased engagement, there's a good reason the "total views" metric has been seen as "the number social networks don't want you to see." Currently, the big social networks shield users from the total view metrics to protect from a potentially hurtful truth: that nobody sees your updates. Or even worse, that they see everything and they just don't care.
But that concern may be dwindling with the rise in popularity of messaging apps like Snapchat, Kik, Line, and WhatsApp. As users get used to instant feedback through messaging tools like 'read receipts' there's a possibility they have a more realistic idea of their audience size and level of engagement or that they've become somewhat desensitized to constant feedback.
Still, unlike Snapchat or WhatsApp, users on Twitter and Facebook often have bigger, more public networks. They're both broadcast platforms at heart and often feel much more like a stage or large public venue than a living room. By releasing view counts, Twitter is banking on the hope that users are okay sometimes speaking to an empty room or — worst case scenario — a room that's actively ignoring you.
Updated — March 22, 8:38 a.m. ET: The second sample tweet in the post was replaced after it came to our attention that it contained an NSFW image.
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at email@example.com.
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