After months of testing, Twitter is introducing Fleets, an unfortunately named take on the popular Story format. Fleets at their core are ephemeral tweets that disappear after 24 hours. Just as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat's equivalent "story" formats do, Fleets are separated from the main timeline in a row atop the Twitter app, and they are free of public-facing engagement metrics — you can't like or retweet a Fleet.
Twitter says Fleets will be available on iOS and Android "in the coming days."
The pressure to go viral — The company explains that it created Fleets because people sometimes let a tweet die in their drafts worrying whether or not it'll be popular. Whereas the social network used to be a casual place for people to share mundane thoughts — like what they were having for breakfast — today users are expected to post only their most unique and original ideas. The result is also the meme-worthy behavior of people posting a tweet that unexpectedly goes viral and then replying to themselves promoting their other work, lest that moment of Twitter fame goes to waste.
That pressure to receive engagement can be significant, especially when users know other people can visibly see like counts and know if their tweets are popular. It can make users feel insecure having their profiles populated with tweets that have received little engagement. But that's social media for you. Twitter, meanwhile, doesn't want that fear of failure to stop users from sharing their thoughts. After all, it's business is getting people to share as much as possible, no matter how ill-conceived or mundane.
"Through our tests in Brazil, Italy, India, and South Korea, we learned Fleets helped people feel more comfortable joining the conversation — we saw people with Fleets talk more on Twitter," the company wrote in its announcement.
Two flavors to choose from — There are two main formats of Fleets. You can share a Fleet with text along with photos or videos and various background options. You can also react to tweets from the timeline by tapping the "Share" icon at the bottom of the tweet and then tapping, "Share in a Fleet." From there you'll be able to add your own commentary using text or emojis. Users can reply to Fleets and continue the conversation through Direct Messages. It's all pretty standard fare for the Story format, though Twitter has a ways to go to catch up to Instagram Stories.
Tweets vs Fleets — Besides reducing the pressure to be performative, there's one other potential benefit to Fleets: users won't have to worry about people searching through their accounts to surface tweets they wrote as a teen that could get them canceled today. Because Twitter is public by nature, there have been repeated instances of the "Milkshake Duck" phenomena in which people use Twitter Advanced Search on the accounts of celebrities and rising figures to find any ill-conceived tweets that could be used to shame or embarrass them.
Twitter been focusing more of late product changes that can help users combat harassment, such as the ability to limit who can reply to their tweets. Fleets is the first major new feature to launch on the service in some time.
There's a growing acceptance that people can, ahem, grow over time, and shouldn't necessarily be punished for things they said in the past. Facebook has similarly been moving to offer more options to wipe the past, including by introducing disappearing messages in Messenger. Though that may be more about its fears of being taken to task by regulators for allowing conspiracy theories to propagate and spread on its platform.
Ripe for regret — Twitter makes it extremely easy to get into hot water as its short format and quick speed encourages frequent sharing of ideas that haven't yet been fully developed. On Instagram, people use their feeds to curate the very best moments of their lives that they want to show off, and the Story is for any casual thoughts that may not be well thought out. There's a lower bar before users will post there, and less on the line (not that some people haven't been caught out thanks to screengrabs).
Fleets in that sense won't take away from Twitter's unique position as a public square where people converge and participate in the collective discourse (or mudslinging). The hope from Twitter's perspective is that it'll add to conversations not detract from or diminish them.
Twitter in its announcement acknowledges that Fleets don't break new ground, saying, "This format may sound familiar to you! We've learned that some people feel more comfortable joining conversations on Twitter with this ephemeral format, so what they're saying lives just for a moment in time." Just don't forget about screenshots, folks. Because 24 hours is far from "a moment in time" when you say something stupid.