Twitter‘s latest experiment is Communities, a project that aims to achieve what Groups have for Facebook and how subreddits operate on the self-proclaimed front page of the internet. However, this is not the company’s first attempt at a feature that replicates a community-driven experience. Back in 2016, Twitter’s team in India was working on a project that aimed to rope in influencers and allow them to create groups of interest within a standalone messaging app. Twitter pulled the plug on this idea before it saw the light of the day. That wasn’t the only attempt by the company that started with the core idea of ‘short status updates and random musings in 140 characters’ either. Fleets — Twitter’s own take on Snapchat and Instagram’s ephemeral stories — rode into the sunset a few weeks ago.
Inspired by the boom in social media-driven commerce, Twitter is currently testing a shop module. However, back in 2017, Twitter removed the “Buy” buttons from its platform, its very first ambitious take on social media shopping. Twitter’s quarterly calls have often highlighted lack of content as one of the reasons it is missing out on engagement yet it snuffed two potential recipes for success — Moments and Vine — in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Failed experiments are not necessarily bad, as they are a sign that a company is willing to adapt and evolve.
In the case of Communities, it’s not just about trying a misfit feature and quickly shutting it down if it fails. Communities actually go against the very nature of Twitter and how it is perceived by users. The rules are simple — users can join a community, and anything they say will remain in the community. In other words, posts won’t be broadcast to all their followers and users can gossip about a topic they’re passionate about. Of course, the chatter going on in a community will still be open for everyone to see and enjoy, or get offended and report. A community-driven approach to moderation is going to be the key here, but the formula hasn’t really yielded effective results on Reddit or Facebook Groups.
Twitter Communities Follows A Flawed Trajectory
Twitter is no stranger to the problem, and with Communities, it might be biting more than it can chew. Tools like Birdwatch can help curb misinformation, but they won’t be particularly effective in a community brimming with bad content that easily evades Twitter’s AI-driven moderation system. Adding live audio chatrooms with Spaces only worsens the problem. That’s just the beginning. While what one says in a community will stay in the community, that sounds very similar to the exclusive tweets that only Super Followers can see. Essentially, there are now four types of tweets — public, community, paid, and archived. Needless to say, keeping a tab on them is going to be a task for everyone involved.
imagine an alternate timeline where everyone just gets you
say hi to Communities—the place to connect with people who Tweet like you. testing now on iOS and web, Android soon! pic.twitter.com/TJdKwUa4D2
— Twitter Communities (@JoinCommunities) September 8, 2021
Twitter is best when it is being itself, and deviating too much from its core appeal will likely result in more struggles than successes. For a platform where a blue tick and high engagement are signs of clout, it makes little sense for an influential person to flex in a community, as their content won’t appear to their followers in the first place. The only option is to Tweet something publicly and then copy-paste it in a community chat as well. Alternatively, if users with some sway by ignoring a community and going solo on the road to Twitter fame, they risk alienating themselves from a community of like-minded people where they are more likely to find popularity.
There’s also the issue of moderation. Moderators will set rules to keep things civil, but there are two interlinked challenges to creating a community in the first place. Right now, Twitter is the sole authority that decides whether an application to start a community is accepted or rejected and this is no easy task. If Twitter stands by its motto of promoting free speech, it won’t be long before the Communities become a hotbed of toxic debate from all sides of an ideology. The same fate awaits if the company allows everyone to create a community, even if it sets certain ‘notability’ criteria for a person before creating one. If Twitter remains the supreme authority when it comes to accepting or rejecting communities, it will be accused of taking sides or stifling free speech.
Then there’s the average Twitter user. For those who still see Twitter as a platform where they can say what’s on their mind in under 240 characters, Communities will be of little to no allure. Another sizeable chunk belongs to users who just follow a few accounts to keep up with what’s happening. Jumping into the rabbit hole of a Communities chat will be of little interest to them as well. For those who really want that experience, Reddit and Facebook Groups already exist and are likely better options with a larger number of users. Not to mention, they don’t impose a 240-character limit either. A Twitter group about NFT ninjas, stock bros, or meme-makers will drive engagement, but it will ultimately be limited to enthusiasts. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Fleets walked the same path and perished.
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About The Author
(167 Articles Published)
Nadeem has been writing about consumer technology for over three years now, having worked with names such as NDTV and Pocketnow in the past. Aside from covering the latest news, he also has experience testing out the latest phones and laptops.
When he’s not writing, you can find him failing at Doom eternal.