Earlier this evening, David Gasca, product manager at Twitter, announced that next week is “hack week” at the company. “What would you build,” he asked, “to improve conversations on Twitter?” I’ve been following Gasca, and a number of other Twitter employees, ever since Arielle Pardes’ epic thread from a wide-ranging conversation at Twitter last month.
My initial suggestions will be familiar in light of all the things I’ve posted here about finding ways to instill more “friction” on our social media platforms. Among them: eliminating engagement counts, providing tools allowing users to control who does and who does not get to participate in replies to their tweets (an expansion of Twitter’s author-moderated replies being tested in Canada), and the ability for users to self-organize into their own Twitter groups in a a sort of internal analogue to different Mastodon instances.
On that last, I argued, Twitter simply is too big at this point. If users could login to Twitter and be in a sort of “home community timeline”, a kind of safe space and home base from which to engage with the larger Twitter community and experience, perhaps that might provide a greater sense both of responsibility and control. Perhaps these chosen community timelines then could also (to borrow a term) “federate” internally on Twitter with other communities, creating shared timelines between or amongst them.
Gasca’s reply: “Totally.”
To be clear, what I am not talking about here is Twitter’s apparent push to allow users to follow topics in addition to following people. I’m talking about, in a way, something of a fundamental reorganization of the Twitter experience for those who want it: establishing the tools for users to create their own Twitter communities which would be subject not just to Twitter’s wider community standards but in fact could construct their own and enforce them for its own members.
The “federation” model (which most people know, if they know it at all, from Mastodon) really is what I’m talking about but in the absence of literally breaking up Twitter into physically separate instances like in true federation, I think this sort of virtual internal federation is the way to go.
It’s difficult to envision. Perhaps it would work much like Mastodon instances running forks such as Hometown which institute a “local-only” posting layer which vanilla Mastodon lacks, where you’d have to set the audience for each tweet as you go: some local-only, some private, some open to the entire network. Or perhaps a Twitter user could log in and literally spend their entire session just in a “local-only” mode consisting of their home community and/or any allied communities to which it’s been linked, and never even look at the wider Twitter universe.
There’d be lots of details like that to work out. Personally, I like the latter model better, since you could just immerse yourself in that local community. But there’d be ways when browsing and engaging with the wider Twitter community to share things you find there just to your home-base community rather than publicly on your open timeline.
Like I said, it’d require a fundamental shift on the part of Twitter in terms of what service it thinks it’s providing. I do think that if they were willing to made such a radical movie, certainly no user should be required to set up or be a part of a home-base community. You should be able to continue having the typical Twitter experience if that’s what you prefer.
I’m just thinking that if users had the ability to have shared but private conversations—think of it like a group that is locked the way an individual Twitter account can be locked—people could feel a sense of security and a sense of ownership. Not, of course, over the service, but over their own experiences on it.
Maybe that’s the thing that Twitter the experience is missing, and that Twitter the company missed. Communities require buy-in from their members, and they require some sort of emotional investment. Twitter users frequently have emotional investments in each other, but it’s difficult to maintain that kind of investment in or as a group because Twitter can be so treacherous, often with no real safe place to retreat and be refreshed except by logging off.
What if the Home timeline really was just that: a home each Twitter user could make for themselves, with their friends or their family or their chosen family or whatever kind and size of group they wished, that no one else could touch except by invitation?
ETA: I got so carried away with the above that I forgot to reiterate something I’ve said before a number of times now: “Do away with likes in favor of highlighting. Do away with retweets in favor of commenting. Interaction over indication. Expression over excitation.”