Virtual water-cooler Twitter is experimenting with a new feature that illustrates how many people are discussing individual, popular tweets through the service.

The feature — which, again, is just an experiment — appears on embeds of popular, viral tweets found across the Internet. It replaces the like and retweet icons with a count of how many people are discussing the tweet.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Twitter spox Dan Jackson said the feature is a “small experiment,” and is part of the company’s efforts to place tweets in a broader “social context.”

It’ll be interesting if Twitter ultimately commits to this. On one hand, this is an immediate and visual way of seeing how controversial or pertinent a tweet is. In this respect, an overall count of people discussing it feels much more valuable than mere likes and retweets, which don’t really signify interest particularly well. I mean, how often do you ‘like’ a tweet, and then move on and forget about it?

But removing the like and retweet icons altogether seems like a surefire way to reduce overall engagement. If you see a funny tweet and you want to share it with your friends, you’ll now have to click through. This, I’d argue, feels much less fluid.

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