Twitter on Tuesday announced a set of changes that will make the Twitter essay, also known as the tweetstorm or thread, a core feature rather than a workaround.
In recent years, prolific tweeters have thumbed their noses at the 140-character limit (now a 280-character limit) by creating “threads” comprising a series of replies to their own tweet. The result has been the rise of a new form, albeit one that occupies a rather small niche in the media landscape: the tweetstorm. For example:
It’s a neat trick but one that takes some forethought and know-how—and can easily go awry in various ways. It’s also hard to know sometimes when a given tweet is meant to stand on its own and when it’s really just the introduction to a series that is meant to be consumed as a whole. Nonetheless, the tweetstorm has become a staple of the platform, allowing people to make the sort of nuanced arguments that Twitter’s famous character limit would otherwise seem to preclude. People often point to a tweetstorm they want to highlight by quote-tweeting it and adding the word thread or perhaps this or read the whole thing.
Twitter has a long tradition of changing its product to accommodate the creative new ways that people are using it. Now it’s doing that again by adding features that encourage self-reply chains and make it possible to publish such a thread all at once, rather than one tweet at a time.
The company announced the changes at 1 p.m. on Tuesday in a blog post titled, “Nice Threads.” The window where you compose a tweet now includes a plus sign at the bottom right. Tap or click it, and a second 280-character composition frame will appear below the first one. That means you can compose a tweetstorm on Twitter itself and get it all set to go before publishing the whole thing simultaneously with a new “tweet all” button. You can see a GIF of the new feature below:
A related change makes it easier to add to an already published tweet or thread, which used to require hitting the “reply” button. Now when you open one of your own tweets, a composition window appears below it with the prompt, “Add another tweet.”
Finally, threads that others have published will now be more clearly marked, appearing in your feed with an option to “show thread.”
The new functionality isn’t perfect. While it makes it easier than before to compose an essay, that’s still much trickier to do on Twitter than it is in a word processor or even on Facebook. Not only does the essay still have to come in chunks of 280 characters or less—any of which might be read or quoted out of context by others—but writing it that way means that you can’t substantially edit or add to the top of your essay without messing up everything that comes after it. The all-at-once tweetstorm also removes one of the unique virtues of the form, which New Republic editor Jeet Heer extolled in 2014: the ability to respond to feedback in near real time, as you write, and to let it influence the course of your published thoughts. The good news is that you can still tweetstorm the old way if you want to.
On one level, this is a cosmetic change to a service that still has deep problems related to both usability and policing online speech. But it’s part of a more important, ongoing evolution in which Twitter is shifting from short, self-contained bursts of information to longer and more nuanced arguments, conversations, and commentary.
Between this and the new, higher character limit, Twitter is becoming a platform for essays and reflection in addition to breaking news, jokes, quips, and asides. To dismiss these sorts of subtle product changes as irrelevant to Twitter’s serious problems with abuse, harassment, and filter bubbles is to miss the ways in which the platform’s original design and constraints helped to foster those problems in the first place.
Twitter has now been with us for seven years and counting, having celebrated its seventh birthday on March 21, 2013. This was seven years to the day since Jack Dorsey sent out the first tweet in 2006, at a time when the micro-blogging social network was known simply as twttr.
Twitter was originally an internal service for employees of Odeo but entered into the public domain in July 2006. By 2007 early adopters and tech bloggers had started to use Twitter, and the service has grown every year since then. In 2009 it benefited from the Oprah Effect, hitting the mainstream in a big, bad way. Those who are interested can read Twitter’s full origin storyHow Twitter Was Born [Geek History Lessons]How Twitter Was Born [Geek History Lessons]Originally created in 2006 as a short messaging system for small groups, Twitter has since evolved into a powerful communication tool that has dramatically changed how information is shared and spread online. Twitter functions as...Read More.
However, despite now boasting more than 200 million active users Twitter is lagging a long way behind Facebook and its userbase of 1 billion-plus. Those who haven’t yet succumbed to the lure of Twitter seem unlikely to ever do so, and they’re missing out on an exciting and intoxicating experience. Which is a crying shame.
What follows are seven reasons why you should be using Twitter, the ‘seven’ representing the number of years Twitter has been around for. Even if you have so far rejected the social network either out of ignorance or a lack of desire, I urge you to read on and at least consider giving it a go.
We all want to surround ourselves with interesting people, don’t we? Sadly not all of us get the chance to do that in the real world. You’re tied to your family by blood, and while other people are your friends for a reason (meaning you should get on with them extremely well) that doesn’t mean they’ll have anything particularly interesting to say.
Twitter is meant not for friends and family but for people you actually want to communicate with. You can follow anyone and anyone can follow you. There’s none of the mutual agreeing to be friends required by Facebook, so if you want to follow 500 complete strangers then that’s your right. If none follow you back then it doesn’t matter a jot.
TL;DR: Twitter is full of people with things to say, and you can listen.
Twitter has proved its worth in recent years as a platform for breaking newsHow to Track Breaking News Alerts Online With TwitterHow to Track Breaking News Alerts Online With TwitterRead More. The simplicity of the site means that the first think many people at the scene of a developing news story do is to tweet about it. A few retweets later and the news has spread. This has led to Twitter beating traditional news outlets to a story on many occasions.
Even if you don’t want to actively tweet yourself, you can use Twitter as a source for breaking news. By following news aggregatorsCatch the News on a World Map With These 7 Map-Based News AggregatorsCatch the News on a World Map With These 7 Map-Based News AggregatorsRead More, rolling news channels, and journalists, you can get the inside scoop of a story long before it hits the mainstream news outlets.
TL;DR: Who needs newspapers when Twitter usually beats them?
As well as breaking news Twitter is a fine resource for tracking online trends3 Effective Ways To See What's Trending On The Web3 Effective Ways To See What's Trending On The WebIt's very easy to track the goings-on of the web. When Web 2.0 came into full bloom, The Internet became more social and trendy than ever. Now, not only do we want to be able...Read More. If a YouTube video is going viral then it will be getting shared on Twitter. If a new meme is spreading like wildfire then it will appear on Twitter. If a celebrity has done something newsworthy but has managed to avoid the news leaking to the mainstream press it will likely appear on Twitter.
HashtagsHOW TO: Effectively Use Twitter HashtagsHOW TO: Effectively Use Twitter HashtagsRead More also figure into this, and most of the Trends listed on Twitter use this simple method of assigning a particular subject to a tweet. You can tailor Twitter trends to suit you, switching from ‘Worldwide’ to those emerging from a particular country.
TL;DR: Trending hashtags can tune you into the zeitgeist.
Companies love Twitter. Your favorite brand is highly likely to have a presence on the site, whatever product they sell or service they provide. Twitter is a great tool for brands to promote themselves and their products, but they are unable to push their wares onto consumers without consumers pushing back.
Twitter represents one of the quickest and easiest ways to contact a company to get instant customer service. The response you receive may not be as fine-tuned as you would get by speaking to a person on the phone, but at least you won’t be kept on hold for hours before you get that attention.
TL;DR: Get a quick response by embarrassing a brand on Twitter.
Celebrities love Twitter too. While not every famous person is present on the site, a high percentage are. The celebrities get another platform to promote themselves and their latest film/television show/book/perfume, and in return their fans gain a new way of accessing their heroes.
While those who are really keen on certain famous people have always found ways to talk to them, Twitter makes it very simple indeed. If a celebrity is on Twitter then anyone else on Twitter can send a message to them. They may even respond. Indeed, I’ve communicated with several celebrities on TwitterTop 15 Tweeting Stars & Celebrities You Really Should FollowTop 15 Tweeting Stars & Celebrities You Really Should FollowRead More in this way.
TL;DR: Tweeting a celebrity beats stalking them.
Most of the entries so far have outlined reasons to follow other Twitter users, such as girl geeks8 Of The Biggest Geeks On Twitter (Who Just Happen To Be Girls)8 Of The Biggest Geeks On Twitter (Who Just Happen To Be Girls)Geekdom has long been perceived as the domain of men, with teenage boys who are fascinated by technology and Star Wars becoming grown adults who are obsessed with technology and Star Wars. While it's true...Read More and popular scientistsTweeting Knowledge To The Masses: 8 Popular Scientists On Twitter Tweeting Knowledge To The Masses: 8 Popular Scientists On Twitter When thinking about scientists you wouldn't necessarily think of Twitter as being their primary means of communicating with the wider world. And that assumption would be somewhat correct. However, there are a healthy number of...Read More. But you can easily turn this on its head by instead creating a Twitter presence that others want to follow. You’re only limited by your creativity.
You can start a Twitter account about anything, as long as you abide by the rulesHow To Get Banned From Social NetworksHow To Get Banned From Social NetworksThe Web has opened up lines of communication that were previously closed for the vast majority of the world. Anyone with an Internet connection can now head online and talk to someone on the other...Read More set forth by the company. You may want to parody a famous person, write short poetry, recount witty anecdotes, or tell lame jokes. Twitter gives you a certain sense of anonymity to plumb the depths of your creativity.
TL;DR: Be imaginative with themed tweets.
If you’re anything like me you have a short attention span. You can read novels, in-depth features, and articles several thousand words long, but there are times when you’d rather not have to. This lack of attention span is why TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) became so popular, and it has also certainly helped foster the popularity of Twitter.
You only have 140 characters to say what you want to say in a tweet (excluding URLs). This means people are forced to get to the point quickly, paring the facts down to their core essence. Sure, there may be a link to a longer news story, but it’s surprising how much information you can consume purely from reading tweets.
TL;DR: 140 characters makes TL;DR redundant.
If you’re already a fan of Twitter then do you think this list sums up the best reasons others should try the site for themselves? Is there another, perhaps better, reason why? If you’re not on Twitter yet has this article made you consider signing up to see if it’s for you? If not, why not? What is the one thing holding you back?
Anyone who signs up to Twitter as a direct result of this article is guaranteed at least one follower… me. If you join Twitter just tweet me at @DavePee telling me as much and I’ll follow you… though I reserve the right to unfollow or block you at a later date for any reason whatsoever.
Image Credits: Ed Yourdon, Michael Beck, Michael Coghlan, Brett Jordan, Frank am Main, Denise Krebs, Maryland GovPics
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