Farewell, Fleets – we barely knew you

Twitter is shutting down its ‘disappearing tweets’ feature after less than 9 months

Goodbye, Fleets.  Photograph: Bloomberg

Goodbye, Fleets. Photograph: Bloomberg

 

So long, Fleets; we barely knew you. Less than nine months after Twitter launched its “disappearing tweets” feature, the platform will shut it down. The reason? People just didn’t use it enough.

Fleets was Twitter’s answer to Instagram and Facebook Stories: time-limited posts that disappear after 24 hours. That, in turn, was ”inspired by” Snapchat. Share a “fleeting” thought, photo or video with your followers, and in 24 hours it will disappear from view.

Twitter hoped it would encourage people to engage more with the platform, as the ephemeral nature of the posts meant they couldn’t come back to bite you in years to come (unless there were screenshots, naturally). Publish and be damned – for 24 hours at least.

The experiment was a failure. It turns out that the people who were mostly using Fleets were already active on Twitter, and were using the feature to amplify their regular tweets.

Twitter, to its credit, is admitting defeat rather than continuing to try to force Fleets on us, and says it will learn from it as it develops new features.

“We built fleets as a lower-pressure, ephemeral way for people to share their fleeting thoughts. We hoped fleets would help more people feel comfortable joining the conversation on Twitter,” the company’s head of product, brand and video ads Ilya Brown wrote in a blog post. “ But, in the time since we introduced fleets to everyone, we haven’t seen an increase in the number of new people joining the conversation with Fleets like we hoped.”

To add insult to injury, Twitter Support tweeted about the decision, but didn’t put it in a fleet. Twitter has already moved on; we should too.

Spaces

As of August 3rd, Fleets will disappear from the Twitter app. Instead, Twitter will use that space to highlight another new feature: Spaces, its Clubhouse-style audio chats. How long that will last is anyone’s guess, but as Twitter has demonstrated, features that don’t work will be quickly shown the door.

“We’ll explore more ways to address what holds people back from participating on Twitter. And for the people who already are Tweeting, we’re focused on making this better for you,” Twitter’s blog post said.

If this reporter could offer a suggestion, perhaps Twitter might come up with a more effective way to stop people abusing its platform. While the company has brought in a number of measures to try to address the problem, the fact remains that if you scratch the surface, abusive content lurks beneath.

Those measures have had an impact on the volume of content Twitter is removing. In the second half of 2020, Twitter took down more content for violating its terms of use than it ever has before. Almost 1 million accounts were suspended over the six-month period, while more than 1.1 million accounts were sanctioned for posting content that breached the rules.

And still, it is not enough. Stamping out abusive behaviour on social media is a difficult task Like all social media, Twitter has an image problem. As long as it is perceived as an unsafe place for certain groups, no amount of disappearing tweets and live audio rooms will persuade them to engage with the platform.