Why is Twitter Fleets shutting down: the failed copycat

David Marin
August 5, 2021

Twitter Fleets is one of the latest installments of the feature but it didn’t go as well as its predecessors because talking about stories on social media is talking about posts that vanish after twenty-four hours.

Before Snapchat introduced this idea of disappearing messages and content, back in 2013, every post on social media remained in the archives of the internet.

Fast forward to 2021, and all of the leading social media platforms have their own stories feature. The ones that we all know - Instagram, Facebook, and even LinkedIn. And then there are other platforms, like Pinterest and Spotify,  that are experimenting with implementing a story feature. And, of course, now Twitter Fleets.

But some of them are a little too late to the party. Twitter only came up with its version of stories in late 2020, when they introduced Fleets.

In the first days, a load of users reportedly experienced issues with the feature and it was sluggish. Twitter fixed the technical issues, but there was a bigger problem: people wouldn't use the feature.

It was pretty much the same feature people knew for years. A roll of posts, on top of your regular feed, just like Instagram stories. The content you see there from the accounts you follow disappears the next day.

Stories, the predecessor to Twitter Fleets

Fast forward to today, only eight months later, they are calling it a day and shutting down Twitter Fleets. No more fleeting posts on Twitter, pun intended. Why? They have admitted the idea didn't pick up steam as they hoped, and they're going back to the drawing board.

The first one to come up with this feature was Snapchat, back in 2013. When it introduced interactions between users in the form of disappearing video messages and posts. Snapchat wanted to be a more ephemeral and informal channel to interact with others.

It became one of the fastest-growing social media apps ever. Already in 2014, Snapchat had more than 30 million users. And it continued to grow up to more than 80 million in the following years.

A lot of that success probably had to do with Snapchat's fresh take on social media. That simple idea of disappearing posts became a blueprint for the industry. It resonated with the younger audience right away but also proved to be quite valuable for different purposes.

Since the beginning of stories, its functionality has evolved in many ways. It has constantly added new engagement features like AR filters, good old stickers, and gifs. But a set of new e-commerce solutions make stories appealing for advertisers and different kinds of businesses too.

The evolution of stories

In 2016, Instagram pretty much carbon-copied the feature. Soon, it became a massive success, counting more than 500 million daily users now. They were so popular that Facebook decided to implement them on its platform and Whatsapp.

Even other platforms like Spotify, which is not inherently a social media platform, Linkedin, and Pinterest have been experimenting with stories.

Then came TikTok in 2017, making waves on the social media waters. It shared many of Snapchat's styles of doing things, with short videos in full-screen vertical format. However, Tiktok has no stories, or vanishing posts feature, surprisingly enough.

But other companies have evolved their version of stories. For example, YouTube is now calling it Shorts. It’s an experiment to make the platform more accessible for people to record and upload 60-second videos from their phones. It's currently being beta-tested, and it remains to be seen if Youtube will end up looking more like TikTok after all. Would you imagine something like that?

And it has also become the place for experimentation on live streaming or live audio chats. Twitter has noticed other social media fads, too, like the fading success of Clubhouse, and introduced Spaces, a place for live audio chat groups. Apparently, Spaces will continue to live and take Fleet's space up on the page.

So, stories are part of the new norm, a more casual, less permanent way for people to share experiences and thoughts on the fly. It sounds like something that would've fit into Twitter's nature.

Isn't Twitter supposed to be all about fleeting thoughts and casual conversation? At least it was before it mutated into a powerful social and political tool, but that's probably a whole nother story.

Twitter Fleets’ last few words

"We're sorry, or you're welcome."

Whatever that is supposed to mean, but those were the final words in the official tweet announcing the end of their attempt at stories. So, they're sorry for shutting down Fleets, but we should be thankful for that? Anyways.

But what went wrong? Ultimately, people weren't using it. Or at least, not the people they intended to use it.

In a blog post, they stated how the feature didn't really meet their expectations of encouraging more people to tweet. They hoped that it would be "a lower-pressure, ephemeral way for new people to share their fleeting thoughts," but it wasn't.

Apparently, those who used it the most were already active and seasoned tweeters, but the goal of Fleets was to attract and engage new tweeters.

One of Twitter's Head of Product acknowledged that there are still many Twitter users who don't tweet or participate in the conversation. So they're still figuring that out and how to entice these users to be more active on the platform: Twitter Fleets was apparently an answer to this.

They couldn't make it this time, and, of course, they hope to have learned lessons to apply to future developments. Like, they have suggested it's probably not the end for full-screen vertical posts on Twitter.

Is Twitter unfit for Stories? 

"Soon, we'll test updates to the Tweet composer and camera to incorporate features from Twitter Fleets – like the full-screen camera, text formatting options, and GIF stickers."

But, after failing this shot on stories, how else will they introduce that kind of content? Will they just try again? Or will they reinvent the feature and bring up something new? We'll have to wait and see.

What can be seen are different behaviors on social media from different age groups and generations. That means that Gen Zs, Millennials, and older generations have different perceptions and attitudes towards social media, which ultimately shapes how it changes over time.

Some marketing agencies think Millennials still use social media to keep up with their business contacts, friends, family, and personal interests. On the other hand, Gen Zs look more for a source of entertainment content, straight up.

Is Twitter more suited for Millennials and older generations, while Gen Zs and the younger are taking over newer outlets? Was it bad timing for Twitter to jump on the stories wagon?

David Marin
Customer Success Manager at Slidebean. Writer since a kid. Yeah, started with little poems, stories, and moved to TV and film scripts after professional scriptwriting studies. Tech passionate and curious by default.
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