Twitter and the cost of links

Federico Viticci covers the news that Twitter will expand from 140 characters to 10,000, nicknaming the feature Twitter Notes. His nickname is appropriate given this latest transformation to become more like Facebook, since Facebook’s Medium-like capability for long posts is also called Facebook Notes.

The tweets and blog commentary on this have really missed a key aspect and cause for concern, though. Many posts – including even my own first attempt – have focused on whether Twitter Notes would water down Twitter’s unique strength. They then conclude that it’s better to include a long-form text feature rather than the compromise hack of screenshot text and tweetstorms. Federico sums up this endorsement with the following:

“Unlike other recent additions to the service, I want to believe that third-party developers will be able to support the feature in their clients (Jack seems to suggest as much) and that the iPad won’t be left behind again. I may be disappointed when the day comes, but if done right (see Matthew’s points here) and as long as Twitter Notes are intended as attachments for regular tweets with real text, I don’t see why I would be against them.”

Here’s why this matters, and it gets back to my post last week about the hyperlink. Closed platforms want to trap all activity, not send it out. The danger in Twitter Notes isn’t that they will replace textshots, it’s that they will replace external blogs.

For all of Twitter’s problems, at least right now most of the good writing we see on Twitter is actually linked out to external blogs (and yes, increasingly Medium posts). To shift that to be stored more on Twitter itself would be a setback for the open web. It would slowly train a new generation of timeline surfers to prefer Twitter-hosted content instead of blogs.

I wrote the above in draft form, and then later saw Ben Thompson’s daily update about the Twitter news. His take is the first I had seen that directly covered the issues of linking, even suggesting that no one really clicks on links anymore. But while he’s worried about Twitter from a business standpoint, I’m more worried about the attack on the web.

Ben also mentioned the clever trick Jack Dorsey used in writing his response as a textshot. Daniel Jalkut pointed out the same thing in the latest Core Intuition. Jack could have posted it to a blog, or to Medium, but he deliberately picked the worst way to work around Twitter’s current 140-character limit, to underscore his point.

Now, Will Oremus writes for Slate about the potential new Twitter walled garden:

“What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the ‘read more’ button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.”

I know we can’t rewind the clock to the heyday of the blogosphere. But we can still do more. More to encourage bloggers, more to spread awareness about how the web is supposed to work, and more to value open APIs. I think it starts with 2 things:

  • Build tools for independent microblogging, to make blogging just as easy as tweeting. I’m trying to do this.
  • Make the web faster, so the cost of clicking on a link goes down. Google’s helping this with AMP.

I was encouraged when I saw that Known had added support for AMP. They have their doubts about AMP, but at least they were quick to try it. From the Known blog:

“We’ve shipped support for AMP because we see potential here, and recognize that something should be done to improve the experience of loading independently-published content on the web. But attempting to bake certain businesses into a web standard is a malformed idea that is doomed to fail. If this is not corrected in future versions of the specification, we will withdraw support.”

Maybe AMP ends up being too ad-friendly to become a good standard. I don’t know. But if so, we’ll move to the next idea, because the web has to be faster. Slow pages are like a disease for links.

Anyone with a blog should be concerned about what could happen with Twitter’s 10,000-character push. We won’t feel the effects right away, but years from now it will matter. We should do more not just to promote blogs and writing on the open web, but to also make it easier for Twitter alternatives to exist through independent microblogging.