Twitter as a Finished Product
I have a few thoughts to express about Twitter and, since it’s not just one thought, Twitter itself isn’t an appropriate medium. I’m of the opinion that Twitter the product has been more or less finished for several years. Since its launch it’s added important features like the ability to upload photos and video, native retweets, ways to embed tweets and interact with them (though I still maintain the default “tweet this” button doesn’t work right), and so on, but ongoing refinements aside, I think the product does what it’s supposed to do and there’s little room or need for further, drastic improvement. As a company, I think Twitter, Inc. doesn’t want to accept this feature completeness, and doesn’t quite know what to do about it.
Twitter’s main role is to be a place to communicate one thought at a time. I think 140 characters was fine for that. I find 280 to be too long to be able to pleasantly skim through my feed during idle moments. It starts to make reading my timeline feel like effort. It sounds lazy but, like, I’ve read Infinite Jest; I don’t mind reading lots of words in the right context.
Anyway, we can quibble about what arbitrary character count is better or worse, but there’s a larger problem at play. Twitter is a place to communicate one thought, but people often have more than one thought to convey. They could go elsewhere to write it, but their followers aren’t elsewhere, they’re on Twitter, so the only option we have are these awful “tweet storms” where we write several or, worse, dozens of tweeets all strung together. Maybe 280 lets you write one tweet where before you’d have written two, but what we really need is a way to get rid of these awful 100-tweet threads that are clearly not an appropriate use of the microblogging medium. In short:
Twitter should add a native blogging client.
Tweets should stay short, but we should have a button that lets us write longer text posts. Format-wise I’d lean toward untitled posts with Markdown support, but plain text could be fine, too. Twitter apps could then have a streamlined way for you to write a tweet (something, like, “Here are some thoughts on Twitter’s feature set”) that has a link to your full blog post. It’d open right in the Twitter client and, when closed, put you right back where you were on your timeline. Maybe there’d even be handy ways to pull quotes from the blog post and retweet them. Newspapers could integrate in some way so that their articles were themselves Twitter blog posts. Hell, adopt the metaweblog API so I can write a blog post on my own site and Tweet about it and then the post could be read right inside Twitter, attached to a little tweet with the headline or summary.
If I’m really shooting for the moon, I also think it’s time for Twitter to open up and interact with other microblogging services. Think of how you might use Gmail but you can still write to someone who’s using their Microsoft work email. You can keep using Twitter, but someone using another service could still follow you, and you could follow them. Twitter, Inc., freed from the need to cite daily active users as a measure of success, could start banning shitheads who use its service to harass people or incite nuclear war. The federal government could run its own microblogging platform that officials would use which would have its own rules for conduct and clear guidelines on how what’s said interacts with official policy. Imagine that.