In March 2017, I went down to Instagram’s offices in Menlo Park to meet founder Kevin Sistrom. The topic of the meeting was not revealed to me in advance, and when we sat in a conference room, Systrom had a surprise for me: his team had cloned the popular Snapchat story and planned to more or less bring the wholesale design to Instagram.
It was a brazen move, especially by American business standards, but it was undeniably effective: Instagram use rose dramatically and Snapchat a plateau. Soon, stories started popping up everywhere: Tinder, Google Photos, LinkedIn, and Medium, to name a few. (A recurring joke is that Excel will ever add stories; I wouldn̵
Stories in One Place, which have never appeared, is an application where their inclusion feels obvious, at least to me: Twitter. CEO Jack Dorsey first envisioned the service as a way to share status messages, such as those once found in AOL Instant Messenger, and the statuses were the original ephemeral stories. Then, in March, ephemeral tweets finally appeared on Twitter. The company called them Fleets and after testing the feature in Brazil and India, released them globally yesterday.
This is Kurt Wagner Bloomberg:
Company executives said research shows that many users are too scared to post or engage with others in the service, which has led to attempts to find new ways to engage.
“Tweeting, retweeting, engaging in conversation can be downright horrifying,” said Nikia Reveylak, head of research on Twitter. “We don’t know how others will react to us, we don’t know if anyone will respond, and we don’t know if anyone will even care.”
This is a version of what Systrom told me at the presentation of Instagram Stories. The central Instagram feed had become a place where users expected to find only the best polished, well-maintained photos of a person’s life; their stories offered a way to lower their publishing pressure. The fleets are designed to work the same way and I suspect they will.
Twitter is entering the ephemeral publishing game with some real advantages. First, the format is familiar – if you’ve posted a story on Instagram, you already know how to post a fleet. Second, the nature of real-time Twitter lends itself to documenting photos and videos right now – something fleets excel at. (Twitter has never cracked sharing photos or videos; I suspect Fleets will help him get there.)
And three, tweets have always been best perceived as a mostly ephemeral format anyway. The old Twitter joke is that this is where you will go to discuss what you have for breakfast. Now the fleets are here and there has never been a better place to post your cup with Cheerios.
Of course, Twitter also has some drawbacks to deal with. The reason the format is familiar is that it is already everywhere; fleets have a lot of competition, and many of these competitors already have rich and compelling feature sets. (Compared to what you can do with a video on Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat, fleets are just at the starting line.) Second, the historically glacial pace of Twitter’s repetition means it can take a long time for fleets to to catch up – and competitors will be inventing new creative tools all the time.
And third, it’s worth asking if Twitter could get many of the benefits of a story-like feature simply by giving users the ability to do so. tweets short-lived. The navies seem like a clever, albeit belated, way to fight the last war. Didn’t the real leap really move here to take the graphics on Twitter and create the first social app “first for history”?
One of the things Fleets copies from Instagram is the idea of one-touch reactions to the story: a heart, fire emoticons, crying emojis, and so on. It is interesting to think of this move in the context of Twitter’s long-standing desire to stimulate more “healthy conversations” on the platform.
This initiative, which dates back more than two years, is a broad and somewhat amorphous effort to address Twitter’s long-standing harassment and abuse issues on the platform. One way to do this is by structuring product-level conversations – and encouraging users to respond to each other with heart and other cute emoticons can be an effective way to do this.
Stories can also encourage healthier conversations by making the answers private. It is true that many abuses decrease in DM, but there may be less incentive to harass someone if your answer is not seen just below the original post, accumulating likes and retweets as more people see it.
Another way to structure conversations is to set boundaries around who can participate. That’s why I was impressed with the way Twitter is approaching the launch of new Clubhouse-style audio chat rooms in the app, called “Spaces”, which should start testing later this year. In general, the company selects the users it will allow to participate while testing the audio chat. This is Nick Stat On the edge:
The company plans to begin testing this feature this year, but Twitter in particular will give first access to some of the people most affected by the platform’s abuse and harassment: women and people of marginalized backgrounds, the company said.
In one of these conversation spaces you will be able to see who is part of the room and who is talking at any time. The person who makes the space will have moderation controls and can determine who can actually participate. Twitter says it will experiment with how these spaces open up on the platform, including ways to invite participants via direct messages or directly from a public tweet.
Clubhouse has been struggling with moderation issues since launching earlier this year. Twitter’s move to start with women and other under-represented users is an intriguing effort to learn from Clubhouse’s mistake. And at least before opening the gateways to all users, this seems like a way to bring more good conversation to the platform.
During a conversation with reporters yesterday, I asked Kaivon Bakepur, the product manager on Twitter, what he saw in the audio. Remarkably, he led with his ability to generate empathy in conversations. Here is what he told me:
“Our mechanics stimulate a very short conversation with high brevity, which is amazing and powerful and has led to all the impact that Twitter has had on the world. But this is a very specific type of discourse, isn’t it? It is very difficult to have long, deep, thoughtful conversations.
Audio is interesting to us because the format lends itself to different types of behavior. When you can hear someone’s voice, you can empathize with them in a way that is simply harder to achieve when you are in an asynchronous environment. … We think audio is powerful because that empathy is real and raw in a way that you can’t achieve over text in the same way. “
Often, when we talk about how to build better social platforms, we discuss them in terms of what or whom they should ban. What I like about Twitter’s moves this week is that they show another way in which platforms can move forward: by designing spaces for conversations with intent, announcing those intentions at launch, and then encouraging everyone. to hold them responsible for this as they go. The success of the fleet or audio spaces is far from guaranteed. But in some important ways, they seem like a real step forward.
This section is co-published with Platformer, a daily newsletter on big technology and democracy.