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Twitter has come up with its answer to subreddits and Facebook groups

Twitter's New York offices
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Twitter is finding new ways for users to organize.
  • Scott Nover
By Scott Nover

Emerging tech reporter

Published

On Wednesday, Twitter announced Communities, a new feature letting users congregate around specific interests on the site by joining semi-private groups.

The experiment marks a departure for Twitter, which has long sported an infinite scroll of various tweets simply based on who one follows. Now, Twitter will let users self-select into communities in an attempt to improve conversations. Its theory is that like-minded people will benefit from chattering amongst themselves, rather than constantly broadcasting to everyone on Twitter.  The strategy mirrors the shift on other platforms toward private and public groups.

Communities will have moderators who determine rules and social norms within the groups, tweeted Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour on Wednesday (Sept. 8). In a promotional video for Communities, one Twitter user writes a tweet and then sends it to “Black Women Photographers,” one of several groups in the menu options including Plant Lovers, Sneakerheads, and Crypto. A user needs to select “Everyone” to tweet to the masses.

That will allow users to direct specific messages to smaller groups of people with shared interests rather than tweeting to all of one’s followers. A tech journalist, for example, can finally tweet hot takes about the New York Yankees without risking losing followers (such as Met’s fans). One just has to find a Yankees fan community first. Beykpour said the tweets are still publicly viewable for anyone checking out the group, but they won’t aggregate on followers’ feeds or a user’s profile. The feature is being tested with iOS and desktop users and, if successful, will be rolled out on Android too.

Borrowing from Reddit and Facebook

Twitter hopes this could provide more permanent homes for Twitter’s niche communities. Twitter’s communities, often referred to informally by names such as like Black Twitter (the African-American experience on the app), Weird Twitter (a sort of anti-humor collective), Media Twitter (journalist types), are loose collections of people who follow and tend to share ideas about specific themes on the platform. The new groups Twitter is testing will give niche groups more control over who sees (and doesn’t see) their conversations, and give users an easier way to check in and see what these communities are saying.

This is a step closer to the model of some other social media sites. While Reddit has always been organized by interest-based subreddits and Facebook has long had Groups, Twitter has let its users develop niches somewhat organically. Certain tools like Twitter’s Lists and more recently Topics, follow-able subject matters like mixed martial arts or musical theater, have already brought the site closer to its peers. Communities is the clearest sign yet that Twitter sees the future as one that’s inclusive of many different ways of communicating.

Twitter’s new normal lets users choose

The fundamental dynamics of Twitter are changing whether the company fully implements Communities or not. In the past year, Twitter has taken steps to expand its options for users by introducing new experiences like the audio-only Twitter Spaces (a Clubhouse copycat) and different ways to control one’s audience.

Twitter recently introduced Super Follows, a way for influencers to paywall their own tweets. Instead of choosing to tweet or not tweet, stay public or go private, creators can now blast out their tweets to those who pay for their content. And new safety features also let users choose who can reply to certain tweets.

Twitter ultimately wants to improve conversations on its site, but it is doing so by further segmenting its users and their experiences. In providing more ways for users to interact, Twitter risks eroding one of the attractions of its original product: that one infinite scroll of tweets, some relevant and many probably meant for someone else.

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