Media & Entertainment

Twitter to expand into long-form content with upcoming Twitter Notes feature (Update: confirmed)


twitter pattern
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

In what could be one of Twitter’s more significant changes since doubling the character count from 140 to 280 characters, the company is preparing to launch a new feature that would support the direct publishing of long-form content on its platform. With Twitter Notes, as the upcoming feature is called, users will be able to create articles using rich formatting and uploaded media, which can then be tweeted and shared with followers upon publishing.

Update: Twitter announced on June 22, 2022 it was merging its newsletter subscriptions into @TwitterWrite, a brand it’s using to encompass its long-form writing efforts, including Notes and newsletters. The company tweeted it would test allowing users to “write longer on Twitter.” The image it published shows the Twitter Notes feature in action, as well. Twitter had declined to comment on this on June 21, 2022 when we published.  Really, y’all? :)

The feature is being tested with select users ahead of an upcoming public launch, we understand. (Twitter originally declined to comment but said it would share updates about the feature “soon.” As it turned out, it announced the feature the day after our publication.)

If broadly adopted, Twitter Notes could potentially change how some people use the social media platform to share their more in-depth thoughts and ideas.

Today, it’s common for users to create numbered Twitter threads to connect a series of tweets together as a means of storytelling or when explaining any subject that stretches beyond Twitter’s supported character count. As a result of this user activity, Twitter officially embraced threads back in 2017 with the launch of a new Twitter composer screen that made multitweet posts — or tweetstorms as they’re also known — easier to create and publish. At the time, there were hundreds of thousands of threads posted daily, the company had said. That number has likely since grown.

But while Twitter threads encourage engagement as users click to expand the related tweets and replies, they can also be a bit unwieldy to peruse — particularly for longer content. That’s given rise to helpful bots, like Thread Reader App, which turn these tweetstorms into links where the thread’s individual posts are formatted like an article for readability’s sake. These days, you’ll often see users requesting the bot’s help in threads’ replies by tweeting out “@threadreaderapp unroll.”

Beyond threads, users have also worked around Twitter’s character count restrictions by writing long-form content in the Notes app on their smartphone then posting a screenshot of their missive. This works to quickly get a message out to a large audience but doesn’t benefit Twitter as the text in the screenshot isn’t searchable and hashtags aren’t clickable the way text posted natively to the platform would be.

Twitter Notes could potentially offer an alternative to both problems by allowing users to instead write long-form articles directly on Twitter itself. This lets users share their thoughts, as before, while still being able to tap into the potential for viral distribution that comes with posting to the platform. Like tweets, the Notes would have their own link and could be tweeted, retweeted, sent in DM’s, liked and bookmarked.

The feature had been spotted in testing earlier this year by app researchers, including Jane Manchun Wong and others. Initially, Notes was being called “Twitter Article,” researchers found.

In images Wong posted in May, the feature offered formatting tools in a bar at the top of the screen similar to those you’d find in blogging software — like options to bold text, add italics or strikethrough, insert ordered lists, add links, change the style, insert media and embedded items, track word count and more. Users could also add either one GIF, one video or up to four photos to their article, as well as include embedded tweets either via URLs or their own bookmarks, the screenshots showed.

Wong noted there was also a “Focus Mode” that would expand the article to a full-screen view and hide Twitter’s sidebars. She said the feature looked fairly polished, which suggested it could be nearing launch.

In a related series images shared by app researcher Nima Owji this April, the feature was shown to support saving articles as drafts and an interface for accessing both drafts and published content.

When publishing a Twitter Notes, Owji found that users could check or uncheck boxes to automatically tweet the article to their feed, their Twitter Circle, or their Communities, as well as copy the article URL for sharing elsewhere — like on another website or in an email, for instance.

In the current version, now called Notes, the feature will be accessible from users’ profiles directly to the right of the “Tweets & replies” link and before “Media,” app researchers said.

Mobile product intelligence firm was additionally able to confirm the development of Twitter Notes, which it found to be ready for launch in the latest version of the Twitter app. The firm also confirmed the feature was located next to “Tweets & replies,” giving it a prominent place on users’ profiles.

While this link lets users view an account’s published Notes, those who want to write new Notes can do so through a link added to Twitter’s main navigation. During tests, Owji discovered Twitter had been experimenting with this app icon, which was at one point relabeled as “Write” in the left-side column on Twitter’s web app, just beneath Twitter Blue.

Of interest, this is the spot “Newsletters” has held following Twitter’s acquisition of Revue — a choice that points to an attempt to merge Twitter’s two long-form writing products, Notes and Newsletters. (Update: Twitter has now officially confirmed this.)

The introduction of Twitter Notes may pose some competition with long-form blogging platforms, like WordPress or Medium — the latter coincidentally developed by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. It could be particularly useful for those users who infrequently publish article-length content and don’t want the hassle of setting up and maintaining their own blog or website. If integrated with newsletters as well, it could also potentially compete with the popular newsletter platforms like Substack, whose authors often promote their subscriptions via Twitter.

That said, Twitter Notes could have some challenges ahead. As Facebook previously demonstrated, on-platform blogging efforts from social media companies don’t always pan out as hoped. Facebook had tried to compete in this area when, in 2006, it launched a bare-bones blogging feature (also called Notes) to offer users a way to post long-form text that wouldn’t fit in a Facebook status update. The feature was then part of Facebook’s larger strategy to chase original content but never became a popular publishing platform. Facebook quietly shut down Notes in October 2020. These days, Facebook is chasing Substack with its newsletter platform Bulletin.

But users may be hesitant to publish to a social platform where business objectives continually change, instead of to a site that’s more dedicated to long-form content publishing and distribution.

Similarly, Twitter will need to be able to convince users that its long-form publishing tool is something it’s committed to as opposed to one of its numerous experiments which could wound down if it fails to achieve traction.

On top of that, Twitter’s entire product initiative strategy is in flux as the company awaits the Elon Musk takeover to complete. Musk has said he wants to be involved in Twitter’s product and has previously stressed his priorities were growing Twitter’s revenue and user base, while eliminating bots. A Bloomberg report also indicated Twitter has been pulling back resources across several of its long-term projects, like Spaces, Communities and Newsletters in advance of Musk’s arrival.

Twitter is expected to launch Twitter Notes in the coming weeks, we understand — unless, of course, Twitter’s internal upheavals prevent this.

Update, June 22, 2022: Twitter officially confirmed the feature the day after we published this post. The company is using Twitter Write as the brand and the link to create new Twitter Notes is also labeled Write. But Twitter Notes is the name of the feature as shown in the image Twitter posted. It additionally confirmed the merging of Revue and the new longform writing feature, as we had indicated.

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