Yesterday, Recode cofounder Kara Swisher conducted a 90-minute interview with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — on Twitter. Dorsey was the one who suggested the format, saying that a live conversation tool “might be a feature we want to build” and that he wanted to see how it worked with Twitter’s current format. If he learned anything yesterday, hopefully it will be that this was the last time anyone should try to conduct a long, substantive interview on Twitter. The interview was hard to follow and “super chaotic,” as Swisher put it.
I’ll admit that, as a reporter, I have a natural aversion to trying to do a Q&A with someone via text. There’s a significant lag compared to talking with someone over the phone, in person, or via video. That makes it a challenge to get an interviewee to respond to follow-up questions or to pin the person down on specifics if they avoid directly answering your question. That’s much of what played out during the #karajack conversation:
Yes but i want THREE concrete examples.
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) February 12, 2019
Another big issue with the chat was that it was nearly impossible to follow the conversation in real time because of the way Twitter threads tweets. If Swisher or Dorsey forgot to reply directly in the conversation, the tweet would be omitted from the thread. If users wanted to follow the conversation using the #karajack hashtag, that wouldn’t help much either — because the hashtag would serve up tweets from not only Dorsey and Swisher, but other people who were tweeting about the conversation. That seemed to lead to Dorsey’s biggest takeaway from the conversation — that substantive tweet threads are too hard to follow.
This thread was hard. But we got to learn a ton to fix it. Need to make this feel a lot more cohesive and easier to follow. Was extremely challenging. Thank you for trying it with me. Know it wasn’t easy. Will consider different formats! #Karajack
— jack (@jack) February 12, 2019
But even if Twitter did fix threading, I don’t think that would make the service a better place for deep conversations. Twitter was built on brevity — first allowing users to only send 140 character-long tweets, then expanding that to 280. That makes Twitter a great place for people to ask for feedback on a thought that’s not fully formed yet, to test out a bunch of different tweets and see what their followers respond to, or to get a bunch of people involved in a single conversation with minimal effort.
Twitter shouldn’t be thinking about how to make a very specific format like this work for a 90-minute conversation between two high-profile people. And while the platform does have some genuine UX issues to fix, I think the biggest issue Twitter needs to think about right now is what is stopping people from tweeting and joining conversations, whatever their length or gravity.
As things stand, I see three big issues:
Twitter needs to do a better job of enforcing its terms of service and kicking people off for repeated harassment
Twitter could create the most visually appealing, easiest-to-follow threads, and many people still wouldn’t use the platform for anything-goes Q&As like Swisher and Dorsey participated in. Why? The more you tweet and the more high-profile a user you become, the greater the potential for bad-faith users to come across your account, see something they don’t like, and tweet death threats, hate speech, and other vile things at you. Twitter needs to be more proactive about kicking people off who repeatedly violate its rules and give users a better way to appeal content moderations it seems to have gotten wrong. That’s the only way to get people more comfortable with participating in the kind of live conversation tool Dorsey seems to want to build.
It needs to give users more control over who can join conversations
Right now, Twitter users have two options — they can either make their account public, and anyone on the service can view their tweets, or they can make their account private, and only their followers can see their tweets. What if, for a Q&A like the one Swisher and Dorsey conducted, Twitter users had to sign up ahead of time to join the conversation, and Twitter limited the Q&A to a certain number of users? Or what if Twitter users following the Q&A who had a question for one of the participants could only tweet at them a certain number of times? Or if Twitter gave users a feature like Instagram’s “close friends” list, where they could send some Tweets to a select number of followers?
Twitter needs to understand that for some users the most appealing conversations are those that take place within a limited group. Right now, the platform is just too noisy for many, thanks to Twitter’s reputation as a place people go to scream at one another repeatedly.
Give users a better way to find new conversations, and segment those off from the rest of their home feed
As mentioned above, Twitter’s marquee #hashtag feature is not a good way to try to follow along with conversations in real time. Trying to follow conversations in your home feed is no help, either, because Twitter still serves up tweets unrelated to the conversation, or even tweets from people you don’t follow but your followers have liked. What if Twitter created a feature akin to Reddit’s subreddits, where users could go to a certain portion of the website if they only wanted to have a conversation about one specific topic, like a football game or the Grammys, or Q&As with high-profile users like Dorsey? Again, I think Twitter is too noisy for many users and giving them a place to talk about one specific topic would do more for the platform than simply fixing threading.