Fleeting thoughts

As part of the latest episode of Internet Friends Jon and Drew talk about ephemerality and people who auto-delete their tweets after a certain period. There are whole services that can do this for you and it was something I entertained as a controlling mechanism before I actually left Twitter.

We have the recent news that Twitter itself is testing "Fleets" (a play on fleeting and tweet) that disappear after 24 hours. They say it's so that people can post "fleeting thoughts", things that they might not be comfortable being always available in the public timeline. Fleets are akin to Instagram Stories, only visible to your followers and separate from your normal tweets.

Twitter has for so long (at least since it got really popular after the 2012 SXSW conference) existed in this weird duality where, on the one hand it is full of the mindless, the banal, the crass, the rude, but also it's where news happens, where people go to make important pronouncements, births, deaths, countries collapsing, people uprising. You couldn't get a bigger disparity if you tried.

Twitter made it so easy to distribute these messages, people didn't need to go looking for then, didn't need to know what website they were on, they just saw it on Twitter. And if it didn't immediately pop into their timeline then someone else would share it - the saying goes that if something's important enough it will find you.

With the emergence of threads - initially a community driven thing but now an official feature - the arguments over whether Twitter was the right place for important stuff grew. You have people who say they are in the public interest, that they are a valid means of expressing a thought that might not start fully formed, or for tweeting about an ongoing situation. Conversely, there are those that think such threads should be reserved for blog posts.

Twitter wanted to own the "Now", the real-time nature of the service always lent itself to the "up to the minute" but people insisted that tweets were historical records and needed to be preserved.

When considering auto-deleting my tweets it made sense in the whole context of "Now" - most tweets are stuck in time and finding something swallowed by the timeline was next to impossible. And, let's face it, who actually searches for historic tweets unless they want to dig up dirt on politicians or celebrities? At least, that's how it seems.

So, Fleets...

I can't see this changing Twitter too much; maybe if you could post ephemeral tweets to the main timeline rather than just your profile. I can see why Twitter are doing this: it's a catch-up mechanism designed to attract new users or, at least, a desperate ploy to keep the ones they have.

Fleets, however, do fit more within the context of "Now" as most tweets don't need to be preserved; they are born of the moment and should likely die in the moment, done and no longer relevant.

If ephemerality became the new norm then maybe things would change, maybe people might not use Twitter as a place of public record and seek more permanent solutions for their thoughts, like blogs.

But that's probably just wishful thinking.

People use ephemeral tools because they don't want things left lying around; they like the freshness, the spontaneity and the permanence of blogs is likely anathema to them.

  1. matthewlang says: #
    I've been giving this some thought today, and all I can say is that I don't see me using it much. I'm not a big fan of Twitter to begin with, so self-destructing tweets isn't really going to make me use it more. There's an article on Fast Company though that highlights the way in which politicians could use it further ensure that they can't be held accountable for what they post. Another weapon of disinformation? It could well be.
  2. Colin Walker says: #
    There's not much point politicians using it as the "story" can only be seen by your followers and, let's face, people will always screenshot anything remotely contentious so there's no escaping.
  3. Colin Walker says: #
    Ah, I see the point, they could say things direct to follow4s that aren't visible in the main feed and then disappear. You'll just get activist groups following them all and watching.

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