Earlier this week, Twitter officially rolled out Fleets, a new feature that — ahem — takes inspiration from Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories, and boy do people have opinions on it. I get it, ephemeral posts have invaded nearly every social network (and even tangentially social sites like LinkedIn), and for those who aren't interested in using them, they can feel like they're just in the way without the option to disable them.
But just as many are doing with Fleets, I resisted Instagram Stories at launch, baselessly claiming that the platform was destroying itself by needlessly copying the competition. A few years later, nearly everyone I follow posts to Stories as often as — and in many cases, more often than they post to their feed. Stories have become an integral and deeply social aspect of Instagram, and I suspect the same will eventually happen with Fleets on Twitter.
Why are ephemeral posts so popular?
So why are people so into these self-destructing posts in the first place? I'm certainly not a social media expert, but I have a few ideas. For one, people just like to see the faces behind the accounts they follow. It's nice to be reminded every once in a while that you're interacting with actual people, and the simple point-and-shoot nature of Fleets (or Stories, or whatever the next platform decides to call them) encourages more facetime.
It's also incredibly easy to post ephemeral messages without worrying about the polish. There's no need to throw your photos into VSCO or Lightroom, or cut together a multi-part video on your computer knowing that in 24 hours, that content will disappear. It's freeing to not have to overthink your posts or come up with some clever caption —especially if you're a creator or influencer who otherwise depends on well-produced content to drive audience engagement and, in turn, revenue.
This is why you see so many creators using Instagram Stories to post behind-the-scenes content. There's no expectation of some time-consuming cinematic walkthrough or scripted narration; there's a sort of humbling feeling when watching your favorite creators put down their $50,000 camera rigs and post content shot and uploaded straight from a phone. Of course, you can still upload high-quality content to your stories, but I think that level playing field is part of the appeal.
Outside of perceived fairness, story posts are also a great way to highlight specific content. Fleets and Stories are always at the top of your Twitter and Instagram feeds, respectively, and particularly on Twitter where a large portion of the content you consume is text-based, being able to draw attention to a certain tweet or product keeps that idea from getting lost in the mix.
To be honest, one of the biggest criticisms of Fleets is exactly why I've been enjoying them so far. They are a blatant copy of Instagram Stories — but I use Twitter and Instagram in very different ways. I use Twitter largely to talk about tech and promote the content my colleagues and I make for Android Central, but on Instagram, I like to take a break from tech and mostly focus on my personal friends and music. Having the same feature on multiple platforms lets me keep up with the different sets of people I follow.
Still rough around the edges
How could Twitter improve Fleets?
Anecdotally, something I found remarkable about Fleets was just how quickly it caught on — at least with the people I follow. By the time I saw the news that Fleets had rolled out globally, there were already dozens of profile pictures hovering at the top of my feed, containing fresh posts from my friends. Sure, a majority of them were selfies with snarky captions making fun of the service, but that's always how it starts. Instagram Stories were the same way.
Using fleets to dunk on fleets is still using fleets. Same thing happened when Instagram first launched Stories, now everybody uses themUsing fleets to dunk on fleets is still using fleets. Same thing happened when Instagram first launched Stories, now everybody uses them— Hayato Huseman (@hayatohuseman) November 18, 2020November 18, 2020
I'm not saying you have to love Fleets right from the get-go, of course, but I think it's clear that people are already enjoying the feature, despite it still being pretty rough around the edges. My favorite experience in the first week of Fleets has been AC's Managing Editor Daniel Bader prompting a series of desk/office tours throughout the tech community. You can't even tag accounts in videos yet (or add any text to videos, for that matter), yet I've already watched over a dozen tech reporters walking me through their WFH desk setups.
That being said, Fleets are definitely still rough around the edges. I'm elated that Twitter no longer opens a camera interface whenever I inadvertently swipe left on my timeline, but the capturing and posting process is still woefully lacking in features. As I mentioned before, there's no way to add text to videos — in fact, right now you can't do anything to videos before posting other than mute them. No filters, no linking, nothing.
I'm not exactly broken up that there's no dog face filter or face swap effect, but at the very least, I'd love the option to save any footage captured in Fleets. One of the features I really like about Fleets is the ability to embed a tweet — once again, calling attention to particular content like a cool video you just made or a fundraiser you want to amplify — but I'd love to be able to see clickthrough analytics on these Fleets, similar to Instagram. Twitter already offers great analytics on tweets, so this feels like a no-brainer.
As many have pointed out, uploads are also pretty rocky in general right now. Videos often get cut off early, even if you stick within Twitter's 30-second limit on each clip. This will, of course, get ironed out with time, but I've found myself having to re-shoot and re-upload the same clip half a dozen times just to get it to play in full, and plenty of other Fleets from creators who understandably don't want to re-shoot simply end up broken.
Twitter still has a long way to go before Fleets start to feel like an essential part of the social network, and for many, they never will. Everybody uses social media in different ways, and as long as these new features don't lessen the experience of the platform for those who don't want to use them, I'm happy to approach any new service with an open mind, and I've been enjoying Fleets a lot already — without ads, I might add!
But seriously Twitter, would it kill you to add an edit button?
Perfect for Fleets
Samsung's best value of 2020.
The Galaxy S20 FE has a nice big, bright screen perfect for swiping through Fleets or Instagram stories, and you get a great selfie cam as well as three great cameras on the back for when you're making your own. Add in great battery life and six cool colors to choose from, and the S20 FE is one of the best Android phones on the market today.
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Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.