Jack Dorsey, who helped found Twitter, took over the company later that year. He seemed more confident in messing with it.
In early 2016, for instance, he flirted with the idea of allowing 10,000-character addenda to normal-size tweets. This would have essentially given every tweet an optional embedded blog post, mirroring how users can already attach photos, videos, or a poll to their tweet. (I liked this idea, because it would make screenshots of text more accessible to blind tweeters.)
That idea apparently came to naught, but its reception played into the titanic tweets which debuted on Tuesday.
What does this mean for thread culture?
Since the election of Donald Trump (roughly), thousands of progressive Twitter users have strung their isolated, anxious thoughts into extended, panicked manifestos by linking them together into “threads.” The company helped promote this behavior by allowing users to string their own tweets together, forming a list of tweets down the page.
This isn’t a new behavior. Twitter users have been doing it since at least 2010. The venture capitalist Marc Andreessen famously made a habit of it during his 2014 Twitter binge. (Back then, the BuzzFeed tech journalist Charlie Warzel dubbed it “tweetstorming.”) Yet its current resurgence is a defining feature of 2017 Twitter—and a threat, by the way, to Medium’s business model.
If director’s-cut tweets roll out to users en masse, I’d expect little change to the length of the longest threads. But perhaps some of the two- or three-tweet threads will be edited down, instead, into 280-character opuses. Concision will live again.
Will this make Twitter better?
It all depends on what you mean by “better.”
Back in 2015, I wrote that Twitter’s greatest cultural ailment (at least for its English-speaking American users) was the onset of metastasized context collapse. Context collapse is what happens when the audience for any online post becomes unstable and untrustworthy—what happens when you don’t know if an offhand Twitter reply, sent to your friend, will wind up on the front page of Breitbart.
This outbreak of context collapse weakened the good faith of Twitter users, I said: It turned the service, which had flourished as something speech-like, where people could have conversations and test out ideas in public; into something print-like, where someone’s tweets were taken as a lasting statement about their core identity.
Then the 2016 election happened—a mass test of internet users’ good faith if there ever was one. And while it’s hard to envision Twitter ever returning to its speechlike roots, the print-like expectations around the service have only hardened. So too have the incentives around setting clear “in” and “out” groups, especially for the service’s highest-profile users in media and entertainment.