Today: Twitter may be considering phasing out its ubiquitous @ and # symbols in an effort to lure more new users. Also, markets rebound but HP sputters after announcing 3D printing plan.

The lead: Wary of scaring off new users, Twitter may simplify its interface

In a move that's sure to rile up its hard-core tweeters, Twitter is reportedly considering phasing out the use of its ubiquitous @ and # symbols.

Speaking at the Newspaper Association of America's mediaXchange conference in Denver this week, Vivian Schiller, Twitter's head of news, said the at-replies and hastags were "arcane," according to a Buzzfeed report, and implied that future versions of the service would move such coding "scaffolding" into the background to make ithe interface simpler for new users to understand.

While Schiller later tweeted that the symbols would not be going away entirely, Buzzfeed received a screenshot from an Android alpha test group, which shows a Twitter conversation without at-replies, suggesting Twitter is at least experimenting with what a world without the @ and # would look like. The most likely change would be for Twitter's "@" names to be auto-replaced by proper names, the way Facebook friend-mentions function now.


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While some users are sure to protest any such change, San Francisco-based Twitter may be more concerned about winning over those not using its service. Twitter's growth has stagnated, and its shares have come back to Earth after its stunning skyrocket ride in December. Twitter has about 54 million active users in the U.S. and 241 million worldside, but its user base grew just 4 percent last quarter. Those numbers become even more worrisome when it's estimated that there are 651 million inactive Twitter accounts, meaning just one in six accounts is actually active. It's suspected that many people try out Twitter, can't figure out the shorthand, give up and don't come back.

In February, CEO Dick Costolo acknowledged that hashtags and other symbols can discourage new users: "We will continue to make the product easier for new users to use," the Merc's Brandon Bailey reported at the time. "It's not just 'get it' in the first weeks or months on Twitter," Costolo added, according to Business Insider. "It's 'get it' on the first day on Twitter ... so that's a focus."

Costolo, meanwhile, will be honored May 5 with PEN literary award, along with author Salman Rushdie. Costolo will receive the inaugural Digital Freedom Award in recognition for Twitter being "a powerful tool" for free expression.

Twitter shares sank 2.19 percent, or $1.12, to $50.12, on Thursday, which also marked the micro-blogging service's eighth birthday. To celebrate, Twitter launched a new feature to show your -- or anyone's -- very first tweet. Don't expect Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to be invited to Twitter's birthday party -- on Thursday he threatened to shut down Turkey's access to Twitter and other social networks in response to a wave of leaks and criticism. "Twitter, schmitter!" he told a crowd of supporters, according to Reuters. "We will wipe out all of these."

SV150 market report: HP sputters as tech stocks lag

Stocks bounced back Thuursday, mostly erasing Wednesday's losses as rising economic indicators outweighed concern over a possible hike in interest rates next year. But while the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all closed with modest gains, the SV150 index lagged, declining 0.98, or 0.06 percent.

Hewlett-Packard surged by nearly $1 a share early in the day but tumbled late, closing the day down 14 cents, or 0.44 percent. While the Palo Alto computer giant cut its debts by 40 percent last year, a Bloomberg News report says CEO Meg Whitman is being pressured to reward shareholders this year. HP shares rose 96 percent in 2013, but sales have been declining for years and the company has been slow to adapt to booming mobile and cloud markets. That could signal more acquisitions this year. "They have a real problem with legacy businesses winding down over the next several years," Edward Jones analyst Bill Kreher told Bloomberg. "If you're talking about transitioning to software and the cloud, that gets back to the need for acquisitions."

HP is expanding in one direction: 3D printing. At a shareholder meeting Wednesday, Whitman said the company would start selling 3D printing products in June. As the Merc's Steve Johnson reported, Whitman said HP has improved both the function and quality of 3D printing, and it will first target enterprise customers.

HP's shareholders' meeting was also the site of a demonstration led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who called attention to Silicon Valley's lack of diversity in hiring. Jackson raised similar issues in an open letter to tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter, on Monday.

Elsewhere in the valley, Apple shares slipped $2.56, or 0.48 percent, after China Mobile declined to provide exact sales figures for iPhones in China. The world's largest telecom said only that "most" of its 1.34 million 4G subscribers use the iPhone.

It was a good day for hardware companies, as Intel (up 1.62 percent), Cisco (up 0.92 percent), VMware (up 1.21 percent) and Juniper (up 0.08 percent) all posted gains. Yahoo shares fell 2.18 percent as it launched a new game network. Facebook, which gave a sneak peek at what its upcoming Frank Gehry-designed "west campus" will look like, fell 1.86 percent, and Zynga dropped 1.17 percent despite CEO Don Mattrick's declaration Thursday that the company's turnaround from a brutal 16-month period is halfway there.

Up: Intel, Cisco, VMware, Juniper, Netflix, LinkedIn

Down: Apple, Google, Oracle, HP, eBay, Gilead, Yahoo, Facebook, Zynga, Tesla, Twitter

The SV150 index of Silicon Valley's biggest companies: Down 0.98, or 0.06 percent, to 1,556.70.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Up 11.68, or 0.27 percent, to 4,319.29.

The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Up 108.88, or 0.67 percent, to 16,331.05.

And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Up 11.24, or 0.60 percent, to 1,872.01.

Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services.