Twitter, Be Twitter 🐣

Twitter’s Fleets feature didn’t work because the problem it was trying to solve with Fleets might actually be unsolvable. And that’s OK.


Is it really a bad thing if Twitter doesn’t release a ton of new features all the time? Does it really harm the experience?

I guess that’s something I’ve been thinking about over the last day or so after the company revealed, in a refreshingly honest way, that its Fleets concept was going the way of the “dickbar” and getting shut down for good, in favor of more fleeting features through the rest of the Twitter interface.

And honestly, good. Fleets always felt like such a bad fit for Twitter—like an approach intended for a more visually driven social network. Twitter started out as an SMS-based service, and it kind of felt like a bad skin to try to wear the approaches of Snapchat and Instagram. It feels like the kind of call that a company that’s publicly traded and whose growth is measured by monthly active users would make. (Oh wait.)

The thing is, though, I don’t really use those other social networks. I prefer Twitter for a reason—it’s conversational and discussion-driving. And putting an ephemeral image in a box that you’re not supposed to reply to just seems like it solves the wrong problem for Twitter. It’s like they had a problem with their growth they hoped to solve, so they borrowed a trick from everyone else. Which, of course, sands down the unique benefits that Twitter offers as a social network.

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(Chris J. Davis/Unsplash)

Twitter seems to have realized that, with Ilya Brown, the company’s head of product for Brand & Video Ads, putting things like this:

We built Fleets as a lower-pressure, ephemeral way for people to share their fleeting thoughts. We hoped Fleets would help more people feel comfortable joining the conversation on Twitter. But, in the time since we introduced Fleets to everyone, we haven’t seen an increase in the number of new people joining the conversation with Fleets like we hoped. Because of this, on August 3, Fleets will no longer be available on Twitter.

More broadly, I wonder if this is a problem that really needs to be solved. Or is even solvable, honestly. I think the thing about Twitter is that it has evolved with the idea of the public discourse in mind, with most things public. Writing a tweet is actually significantly less work than building a fleet was. The real problem is that some people don’t want to be quite that public. Perhaps that’s not a flaw of the platform but a realistic point to focus your network’s growth. If people don’t want to share in that way, that’s a parameter you must work around.

Another announcement Twitter made this week—the ability to limit replies on a tweet after the fact—strikes me as a much better fit for the network, and might actually be a better solve for getting folks who aren’t engagers to engage.

When tweeting, there occasionally comes a point where something gets too much attention and goes too viral. It’s happened to me. It can be overwhelming, and users have had no way to control that until now. That’s honestly the thing that discourages people from tweeting a lot of the time—the risk that what they write will get noticed.

This reply-limiting feature effectively offers a way to cut a post’s virality off at any time. (It still allows quote tweets, alas, but it’s a start.) I hope they lean into that some more.

Ultimately, good on Team Twitter for taking risks. But perhaps consider risks that don’t look like retreads from other social networks.

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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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