Hey, @jack, here’s how tweet editing should work

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

5 responses to “Hey, @jack, here’s how tweet editing should work

  1. I tend to agree with @jack.

    Real time speech you can’t edit, you have to live with it. Twitter is not a write/edit medium, it’s more a real-time conversational medium. So I think it fits.

    If you don’t want to make the mistakes that require edit, then get better at what you do – like public speaking. Don’t tweet until you review. Add a time delay / review period before posting would be a better solution.

    Also, it’s the simplest solution not prone to abuse and complication rules and issues. Your “simple” proposal already takes 6 bullet points and even more points of decision and logic. Violates the KISS principle. Twitter as a medium is so open to abuse and manipulation and all sorts of other tactics, that I see this will only exacerbate that.

    (I have worked with product management in a FANG company, and seen how these product decisions that affect billions of people can easily go wrong)

  2. There is a much easier answer. Have the twitter client add a timer for when to actually send the tweet out. Set the timer however you would like it – 5 seconds or 3 days. This would be a popup menu on the tweet posting screen.

    Once you hit ‘done’ or ‘post’ – the timer starts and counts down. The tweet client could stay on that window with the timer showing the count down. If you click in your tweet text – the timer resets and waits for you to click done again. Edit away as much as you want.

    This gets you nearly real time tweets with a delay in case you notice a problem – which lets you edit and get it right. The public facing tweets are still the same – just changes things in the twitter client software.

  3. Excellent. It’s just too bad they’re not listening. Remember that the big dot-coms all have hidden agendas that don’t include “working better” or “providing better service” They don’t have to. They own the industry.

    Thank you for this piece, you are dead on! I have gone back and “fixed” posts in other social networks many times. If you leave a misspelled word, or wrongly worded thought in a TWEET it stays there.

  4. Ooooops! I wanted to go back and edit my comment, but I can’t.

    One way to avoid “editing” tweets :

    Generate your tweet as a graphic in a graphics program.
    Upload your “tweet” to a graphics site, or your own site.
    Post the link to the tweet as a graphic so it appears in Twitter.
    Then the graphic is now editable, you change it, re-upload it.
    Now when Twitter re-loads your tweet, it loads the edited graphic.
    Problem solved.

    The silver lining is that while you’re working up your graphic, it’s
    completely editable — so you can make sure it’s accurate, and
    says exactly want you want it to say in the first place. Then,
    it may not need editing.

    The problem with all social media is that people have a way of just
    knee-jerk reactions that they spout off and then later regret it, or
    discover a mistake. Too many Tweeters just don’t think [THINK]
    before tweeting.

    🙂
    just sayin’

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