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Twitter reveals big changes to conversations and new camera features

The changes are meant to make good on the company's promise to promote "healthy conversation."

Twitter is teasing some of the biggest changes to its social media service since it first launched in 2006, aiming to make good on the company's promise to promote "healthy conversation."

The company is also introducing new features to enhance pictures and video on the app in an effort to encourage users to make more use of the cameras on their smartphones, a move that adds features similar to those found on the apps of some of its main competition: Instagram and Snapchat.

“We’ve really intentionally tried to make the images and footage that are captured on the ground at an event look different than other images and videos that you might attach to a tweet,” said Keith Coleman, Twitter’s head of consumer product.

On Tuesday, the company offered the public its first look at a new prototype for the Twitter app, which the company is calling "twttr" in a nod to CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey's first tweet, that includes a variety of changes to how Twitter looks and operates, centered on a new format for conversations and color-coded replies.

The app is a public beta test and the changes may never be integrated into Twitter's core experience.

The prototype also moves the engagement counts for replies behind a tap. This change is designed to make Twitter a little friendlier.

“We’re also actually working on changing the product and changing the policies to improve the health of the conversations,” Coleman said, pointing to faster and more “proactive” enforcement including the takedown of accounts spreading hoaxes and conspiracy theories.

Twitter, which has long billed itself as the social media site for “what’s happening now,” has also made changes to how its camera functions. Speaking at Twitter's house at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, Coleman said users will be able to post pictures, video and livestreams with a different look when they capture them live.

The update was a year in the making and will both make the platform more camera-centric as well as bring splashes of color to Twitter timelines. It’s the first major camera update since 2016, and users will notice that the camera is now more easily accessible in the app: by simply swiping left from the timeline.

Once in the camera, users can add one of six different colors, plus captions, locations and hashtags in an overlay onto their photos, videos or live broadcasts.

The new camera is also “smart.”

“It knows where you are and what’s going on around you," Coleman said. "So if you’re at SXSW, it knows that, and it will suggest you add the SXSW hashtag.”

The new features are similar to what users find on Instagram and Snapchat. Twitter hopes the enhanced camera will get users posting more videos, photos and live broadcasts on its platform.

Twitter also said daily video views on the platform have doubled over the past year, but that sharing photos has “been a lot of work” for users.

“This new ability to follow an event, just like you can follow a person, is going to make Twitter a lot easier for people," Coleman said. "It’s going to unlock a lot of the magic."

CORRECTION (March 13, 2019, 3:30 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the changes that Twitter is testing in a prototype app. Twitter is testing putting engagement counts on replies behind a user tap, not removing the engagement counts for tweets.