According to reports based on screenshots sent to the social media editor of The Next Web, Twitter has a feature it hasn’t launched yet that could make composing Tweetstorms easier than it is now.
Tweetstorms, if you’re not familiar, are those long, drawn-out threads of updates from a single user on a single topic. The term was coined by NYU professor Jay Rosen as more and more people were posting strings of updates ranging from five to up to 30 posts in a row at a time. The functionality around them has evolved as well, as people discovered that if you kept replying to your previous post then the updates were indeed threaded into a single narrative.
Twitter obviously feels there’s some value to encouraging this sort of behavior. It keeps people engaged on the site as they keep posting and these threads often draw the attention of others. They’re also widely derided. The form factor is not great, either from a publishing or reading perspective. “Clunky” is somewhat of an understatement.
A Middle Ground
This is Twitter finding a middle-ground solution between the 140-character limit it’s known for and the long-form content people still want to post and which it’s reportedly tested several times over the years.
There are still problems, though. Twitter’s issues with how it handles links – as separate items, not embedded within text – as well as the appearance of uploaded images/video become all the more apparent within Tweetstorms. Links really do interrupt the reading experience and sometimes images will appear smaller than normal in one of the replies that makes up the thread. Whether or not those issues are addressed in this feature remain to be seen.
One additional problem is that if the feature works as reported, allowing someone to write out the whole thread and then post it as a series of updates, it doesn’t take into account the spontaneity that often inspires these spurts of activity. While these strings are usually somewhat annoying, only rewarding reading and exploration well after they’re done, news organizations also use them regularly to update live from where a story is breaking. That’s much more interesting, but it’s also not something that can be planned out in advance.
When you think about it, Tweetstorms are to Twitter what Stories are to Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms: Collections of multiple updates around a single topic. Twitter’s Moments feature also fits this bill, but with the added ability to curate updates from other people. It’s another instance where Twitter basically does what other networks do (e.g. messaging) but in a clunkier manner and all within a single app.
Twitter wants to keep people on its network. In this case it’s not competing against Facebook, it’s trying to keep people from investigating WordPress or Tumblr for their long-form thoughts. I’ve yet to read a single Tweetstorm that wouldn’t be improved by being posted to a blog platform and with supporting links embedded in the text. But it’s what people are doing and Twitter isn’t in a position to look a gifthorse in the mouth when it comes to user activity and engagement.