Teased features show Twitter’s trying to thread the needle

Communities, Trusted Friends and Facets may empower users to better tailor their feed to followers
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Illustration by Greg Storey

During a big game, Twitter can be the best sports bar in the world. During a work conference, it’s the ultimate networking tool. On a lazy Sunday morning, it can be the place to find and share thoughts on an interesting piece of political writing.

Twitter, perhaps better than any other social platform, empowers users to be whoever they are—whenever they want.

The challenge is not everyone is the same person all the time. Really, no one is.

While I love Twitter and use it every day, it’s a challenge I’ve bumped into often—and more-so lately. In the evenings, I love using Twitter to watch Mariners games with my friends. During the day, I’m trying to network around digital publishing, maybe mix it up with clients. And in between, I chime in on local and national politics.

If any of my followers are interested in all those things, it isn’t many of them.

This problem, if you can call it that, is one Twitter appears to be exploring fixing.

Enter Twitter Communities—as written up by The Verge.

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019 quote-left

Similar to how groups on Facebook and Reddit’s subreddits work, each Twitter Community will have its own moderators who are able to set rules and invite or remove people. Twitter invited a handful of users to create the first Communities and will let anyone apply to create their own on its website. “Communities are just invite-only for now, but we’re working on ways for people to discover and join Communities they want to be a part of,” the company said in a statement. That makes Communities harder to join than subreddits or public groups on Facebook. Twitter is also approving moderators to start.

Communities is a somewhat obvious move for Twitter, given that its users have long formed niche groups around specific interests, like media and crypto. 

The feature, for now, is in its testing and initial rollout phase—though you can apply to start your own community.

This feature joins another a couple other interesting ones that surfaced earlier this year, also only in the testing phase.

As reported on TechCrunch and elsewhere, Twitter is testing out a Trusted Friends feature, allowing users to limit their tweets to a select group of followers.

trustedfriends-full

Image credit: Twitter

This is very similar—perhaps identical?—to what many of you have likely already seen on Instagram Stories.

Very closely related, but more robust, Twitter is also toying with a feature called Facets. Unlike Close Friends, this designation would offer a level of control to both the person tweeting, and the user following.

For someone like me, with all the things I mentioned tweeting about above, it could be pretty useful.

A look, and an explanation, again from TechCrunch.

facets-full

Image credit: Twitter

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019 quote-left

Unlike Trusted Friends, which would let you restrict some tweets to a more personal network, Facets would give other users the ability to choose whether they wanted to follow all your tweets, or only those about the “facet” they’re interested in. This way, you could follow someone’s tweets about tech, but ignore their stream of reactions they post when watching their favorite team play. Or you could follow your friend’s personal tweets, but ignore their work-related content. And so on.

This is an interesting idea, as Twitter users have always worried about alienating some of their followers by posting “off-topic” so to speak. 

They’re just in testing, again, so they may never actually see the full light of day.

•    •    •    •

For lawyers—or anyone with a day job to go along with their personal interests (read: everyone)—there’s a lot of practicality here. And it makes sense Twitter would explore this space.

Twitter has succeeded because users feel inclined to share whatever they’re thinking or seeing as they’re seeing it. Regular people (non-brands) aren’t as inclined to carefully curate or polish their presence. And that’s the beauty of the platform, that’s why people use it—for that authenticity.

But it isn’t without some downside. I’m sure LexBlog Community members who follow me for takes on blogging aren’t super interested in, say, my disdain for Seattle’s mayor.

Twitter’s taking a shot at figuring it out. It won’t be easy, as not everyone wants to take the time to manicure their presence—and again, much of the platform’s beauty is in folks not doing so—but if they can blend some manual work on the user side with some AI that makes it a little easier, they may have something.

It will take, as the title says, threading the needle for it to all work out. But they’re trying. And if it doesn’t work, Twitter’s shown they’ll be quick to dump new features that aren’t useful.

As Publisher at LexBlog, Colin leads the Publishing team and guides LexBlog clients and community members on blogging digital publishing strategy. A professionally-trained journalist, he’s applied the trade by helping keep LexBlog at the forefront of blogging and digital media trends for more than a decade—split up by a four-year stint helping lead the Seattle Mariners’ digital marketing efforts. He’s a fan of those M’s, the Green Bay Packers, Seattle craft beer, pinball, jogging and ebikes.

Photo of Colin O'Keefe
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