Tweet Threads

Despite Twitter being a platform focused around the Tweet -- a single, succinct snippet of thought -- I invariably find that the most (indeed, almost the only) interesting ideas on this platform come not in single tweets, but in threads.

I think this is because of the types of things that can be communicated effectively within 280 characters. Jokes work well, or pithy commentary on news, but generally a single tweet can only contain the core of an idea, not any supporting evidence or interesting implications.

Individual tweets also generally represent simple ideas. Those ideas can be shallow or profound, but it’s very difficult to convey a complex idea, or show the relationship between several simple ideas, in a single tweet.

What’s especially interesting about the Twitter thread is that it wasn’t a product designed by Twitter. Instead, users found that they were unable to communicate some things effectively in the space of a tweet, so they used replies to themselves to split up longer thoughts.

It’s a great example of an Emergent Product, where a community of users takes a product in a direction not anticipated by the Product Designers themselves, who only later modify the product to provide explicit support for this type of behavior.

I see all sorts of people using Twitter threads as a sort of “blog”, with some interesting side-effects. I’m sure many do it for exposure, as a great thread has the potential to go viral, and people are much more likely to engage in tweets than in links off-platform.

Because a thread is broken up into individual Tweet-thoughts, users can engage with and branch off from any particular Tweet, with potential for a cascading tree of sub-conversations; mimicking, in a way, how real conversations branch and diverge from the original topic.

I also find that breaking up long-form content into individual Tweet-thoughts encourages a specific type of writing, one that is probably familiar to journalists. Lots of very short paragraphs, usually only a couple of sentences each.

Even with long tweet threads, you can’t write dense, literary paragraphs. The format enforces an economy of language, and if you haven’t made your point in 280 characters, you have to go back and remove something superfluous.

I suspect that this terse style is part of the reason many journalists do so well on Twitter (besides it being part of their job nowadays) – the format plays right into some of their developed writing skills, writing in a way that most of us have never done before Twitter.

As an experiment, I decided to write out this thread as a blog post first, just to see how it would feel outside of the Twitter format. I’ll admit it looks a little artificial, with every paragraph roughly the same length, and connected ideas spread across adjacent paragraphs.

However, as I wrote this out, I found that the enforced economy has done me some good. I do tend to reiterate and ramble as a writer, and something telling me to get to the point already seems like a good thing.

You can, however, continue adding as many tweets to a thread as you want; nothing prevents you from continuing to expel every thought that flits across your brain into just one more tweet. So, on that note, I think it’s time to end this thread before I start to bore myself.

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