Twitter is testing its own version of Stories. The company announced today it will begin to trial a new sharing format called “Fleets,” starting in Brazil, which will let users post ephemeral content to its social network for the first time. Unlike Tweets, Twitter’s new Fleets can’t receive Likes, Replies or Retweets. And they’ll disappear entirely after 24 hours.
Fleets aren’t non-public, to be clear; they’re just a little less accessible. You could visit someone’s public Twitter profile and tap to view their Fleets even if you don’t follow them. But their Fleet won’t circulate Twitter’s network, show up in Search or Moments, and it can’t be embedded on an external website.
Twitter is one of the last major social platforms to test out a Stories format. First popularized by Snapchat, you can now find a version of Stories across Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and others. Spotify also recently announced a test of a Stories-like feature and even Microsoft’s Skype gave it a go at one time, as did Match and Bumble.
In Twitter’s case, Fleets are meant to address one of the primary reasons why users don’t tweet: they feel uncomfortable with Twitter’s public nature. On this front, Twitter said at CES in January it would soon test new controls for determining the audience for your Tweets — like public, followers only, and so on. But those tests haven’t yet begun, we understand.
Fleets, meanwhile, represent a simpler and more familiar solution.
In Brazil, testers will see rounded profile icons right at the top of their Timeline on Twitter’s mobile app. This will be immediately recognizable as a Stories feature. The first icon is actually a little thought bubble displaying your own profile photo. Users will simply click on the “+” button to compose their Fleet.
The composer interface is more bare-bones than what you’d find on rival social networking sites. Twitter says that’s to reflect its product’s text-centric nature. However, users are able to add photos, GIFs and videos to a Fleet, even if fancy editing tools are not available.
At launch, consumers will be able to post videos up to 2 minutes and 20 seconds in length (or 512MB). Whitelisted publishers will be able to publish videos up to 10 minutes in length.
Users can also post multiple Fleets, which viewers will move through using gestures.
This is where Twitter’s version of Stories is a little different and potentially cumbersome. To view the multiple Fleets a user has posted, you swipe down instead of advancing through the Fleets horizontally with taps on the sides of the screen. Meanwhile, to move to the next person’s Fleet, you swipe to the left.
But these gestures could change based on user feedback, Twitter says.
Though Fleets don’t move through Twitter’s network the way that Tweets can, viewers can interact with them, in a way. If the poster allows DMs (direct messages), you can reply to the Fleet privately. You’ll also be able to react to a Fleet with an emoji, similar to how Stories work on other social apps.
One of Twitter’s bigger challenges with its take on Stories is figuring out which Fleets will be displayed first on your home screen. On networks like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, users typically follow their friends and a varying range of public figures and brands. But on Twitter, it’s fairly common to find users who follow hundreds and even thousands of other users.
To make a Stories feature compelling on Twitter, the lineup of Fleets will have to be highly personalized to the end user, perhaps by allowing users to designate their “close friends” at some point. (Twitter won’t have any such option at Fleets’ launch, however.)
For now, Twitter says it determines which Fleets to display first based on recency and mutual follows.
Twitter’s test arrives shortly after activist investor Elliott Management Corp. took a stake in Twitter to push for changes at the social network. The investment firm believes Twitter isn’t living up to its potential and its CEO Jack Dorsey — who the firm wants replaced — is distracted by his side projects and by his other CEO job at Square. Twitter is also seen as having lagged behind on innovations. While other social networks have adopted popular features like Stories, Twitter has remained focused only on its core product.
The company says it will use the Brazil test to better understand if Fleets help users become more comfortable sharing on Twitter, a perennial problem for the post-in-public social network. (Last year, Twitter even invented a new metric — mDAUs, or Monetizable Daily Active Users — in order to make its user numbers look more attractive to Wall Street investors, who have been disappointed with Twitter’s slow user growth.)
The public nature of Tweets isn’t Twitter’s real problem, of course. Its that Twitter has allowed online abuse over the years to run rampant on the platform. Twitter today feels like a minefield, not a safe space to share your thoughts.
In addition, Twitter has become associated with a form of aggressive wokeness dubbed “call-out culture” or “cancel culture.” This can sometimes involve adversaries digging through a user’s older tweets in order to hold them accountable for offensive remarks or inappropriate behavior they posted online years ago. Whether warranted or not, cancel culture’s mere existence has made users more hesitant to Tweet and more likely to use a third-party app or service to auto-delete their Tweets if they do.
Of course, users’ hesitancy to post is bad for Twitter’s growth and bad for advertisers, who need a steady stream of user-generated content into which they can insert their marketing messages.
Twitter says Fleets will begin to roll out starting today to Brazilian users on both iOS and Android, following the app’s update. The test will run for a few months before Twitter decides to roll out it out to other global markets.