Twitter’s VP of Research and Design Dantley Davis tweeted a list of new features coming to Twitter. Here’s the list:
Where’s tweet editing on this list? These are minor tweaks that will mostly affect heavy users and celebrities. Everyone who has ever made an error while tweeting — that is, everyone who uses Twitter — wants to be able to edit tweets. Facebook does it. Why not Twitter?
The argument against tweet editing
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has stated that he’s against allowing tweet editing because it would “take away from the public record.”
As simple as an edit button sounds, consider that Twitter is a conversation. Tweets are embedded in threads of retweets, likes, and responses. You could, in theory, edit a tweet to say the opposite of what you originally wrote and make those who responded look stupid.
So it’s not trivial. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
How tweet edits should work
Here’s a simple proposal.
- Every tweet has an edit button on it. (Facebook has this: you can edit a Facebook post by clicking on the “…” in the upper right corner.)
- If you edit a tweet before there has been any interaction with it (no likes, no retweets, no responses), it’s as if you never posted the original tweet. In other words, it’s exactly the same functionality that you have now from deleting and reposting, just more convenient. This covers the most common use case, which is fixing a typo right after posting.
- If you edit a tweet with interactions — such as likes — they should remain on the edited tweet. A popular tweet shouldn’t suddenly disappear and reappear virginally if it’s part of a conversation.
- An edited tweet should be easy to spot visually. For example, on its first edit, the background might turn pink instead of white. On the second edit, the background might turn red. Anyone coming upon such an edited tweet should be able to click a button on it and see it in its original, unedited form. (We can skip the color change for tweets that had no interactions, as described in item 2 above.)
- The algorithm that surfaces popular tweets can acknowledge and potentially penalize tweets edited after they become popular. Twitter will have to experiment to find out whether a small penalty makes a difference here.
- You could add additional tweaks to the edit feature to prevent skullduggery, such as preventing accounts from changing tweets they have paid to promote.
This feature, as I’ve described it, will enable people to fix typos easily. But if someone tries to mess with people by changing a tweet after it becomes popular — for example, adding the word “not” after a tweet becomes popular, changing the URL a tweet points to, or changing the media it includes — then that meddling will be obvious. The tweet will be a different color and you’ll be able to spot the manipulation easily.
I’m sure that, technically, behind the scenes, this is harder than I made it out to be. Frankly, I don’t care. There are plenty of engineers at Twitter. They’ve probably worked out a way to do this already. So show it to us.