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Twitter is thinking about how tweets can become more ephemeral

Twitter’s head of product Kayvon Beykpour sat down recently with The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel and Silicon Valley editor Casey Newton for our Vergecast interview series to discuss the way the company is thinking about its features and what changes can be made to make the platform move a little faster.

Beykpour also discussed what other features Twitter is prioritizing, as well as an update on verification, juggling policy with trust and safety, and what video on Twitter looks like in the future.

One potential feature that came up frequently in the interview was the ability to auto-delete tweets and Twitter’s reaction to the trend of ephemeral content that’s defined Instagram and Snapchat stories and the rise of private messaging. Beykpour gave some insight on what Twitter is thinking about in that realm. Below is a lightly edited excerpt of that part of the conversation.

Nilay Patel: How does Twitter think about ephemeral content and will I ever see Twitter stories?

Kayvon Beykpour: I would go back to, you know we were talking about that spectrum, right? On one hand you’ve got private, on the other hand you’ve got public. And today, really, the two form factors we support are tweets as a mode of conversation, and DMs are another one. And arguably maybe somewhere in the middle, you’ve got protected accounts, which kind of like sits in there. So your question of ephemerality, I view that as another dimension that is really important for some customers: for some specific set of circumstances where you want to talk to people, but you’re not quite sure you want it to last forever yet. And so I think as a dimension to focus on, as a specific customer problem, absolutely, I’m very interested in exploring how we might give customers more control. Where ephemerality is just one of those dimensions, I think there are other dimensions that, while we can get excited and talk about ephemerality because there’s lots of other standards of how other apps do this, I think other dimensions, like control around who can see or control around who can participate, is really critical. In fact actually, the Kara [Swisher] / Jack [Dorsey] conversation is a perfect example of this. Kara and Jack were trying to have a conversation, in public.

Casey Newton: Kara Swisher, our good friend and colleague, talked with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and they had an extended back and forth on Twitter this year.

Yeah, I believe that the intent behind that conversation was to have a fireside chat, where the two of them were onstage and the world could watch. But it was actually quite difficult for them to do that, for a number of reasons. One, the mechanics of the conversation and following it were really challenging. A lot of that we’re addressing with our work and the Little T app, the public beta that hopefully you’ve seen. But I think another one of the issues was, it’s actually quite difficult to have a fireside chat when you have a billion people screaming into your ear. Like imagine we had tens of thousands of people in the studio with us right now, talking into our ear while we were talking to each other.

CN: No, thank you.

And so I think that’s another dimension of how our conversations features work or don’t work today, that’s really important to us. That and ephemerality, I believe is up there as well. So, you should expect to see from us various product features because there’s no silver bullet for all of these things. But you should expect to see various product features that try and nail different intersections of the spectrum.

CN: I’ll tell you, my request is, I would love to set all my tweets to just go private after a year, basically. And the reason is just that cultural standards change enough that I either have to delete all of the tweets on a regular basis or I could just set them private, right? Because we’ve now seen bad actors sort of digging into peoples’ old tweets, taking them out of context and wreaking all kinds of havoc. So, I would just love a way to never have to think about that again, basically.

NP: I mean, I pay other companies to delete my tweets for me. I’ll just pay you.

KB: It’s actually kind of shocking to me. It’s clear that you care so much that you’re willing to…

CN: I mean, journalists’ careers end because someone digs up an old tweet, you know? It really is a very existential, I realize we’re in pretty niche territory, but…

We’re actually not, though. Fear of speaking in public and fear of retaliation or fear of being harassed and harassment means many different things to many people. Or fear of being held accountable for something that is not what you meant. These are some of the biggest reasons why people don’t tweet. Which is why we actually take this very seriously. There are many different product solutions. Auto-deleting tweets is something that we could do. We have thoughts on other things that we could do, as well. The point is, this problem, we’re hyper-conscious of and we believe that getting people to feel comfortable talking in public is critical. There need to be bridges to that mechanic because talking in public is pretty terrifying for most people. We’re super interested in coming up with multiple solutions to solve it.

NP: Do you think about, like literally, auto-deleting tweets as part of ephemerality? Or do you think that’s a different kind of product?

KB: I do think it’s a form of ephemerality, for sure. I would say it’s a — don’t take this the wrong way — I think it’s a less interesting solution to the same problem. But it’s absolutely a form of ephemerality, but we’re interested in exploring a couple other solutions that have the same potential effect of you not having to worry about what you say lasting forever, but giving you some of the other control that I think is missing. Because I don’t think the ephemerality alone solves the most important problem, but we may realize that we should still offer that. I’m not dismissing it, I just think that we’ve got some other ideas around how we might solve it in interesting ways.

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