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Twitter rolls out vanishing Fleets as it copies Snapchat and Instagram Stories

The social network is also experimenting with a private audio space, taking a cue from buzzy start-up Clubhouse.

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- 03:48
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Twitter says tweeting can be intimidating for some users

James Martin/CNET

Twitter, a social network known for 280-character messages, is giving users more ways to share their thoughts online including through ephemeral content and audio clips

The move is part of Twitter's efforts to encourage more people to converse publicly online, a task that can be daunting to users who are worried others won't like or share their tweets. 

"It is crucial that people feel inspired and have the tools and capabilities to actually talk and create content in order for the rest of us to stay informed about our interests," Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter's product lead, said in a press call.

On Tuesday, the company said it's rolling out a format globally called Fleets that allows users to share text, photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours. Social media users have been posting more ephemeral content after Snapchat introduced Stories, a format that's been copied by other social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

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Twitter is experimenting with voice chat rooms called spaces.

Twitter

To post ephemeral content, Twitter users tap on a "share" icon at the bottom of their tweet. Twitter users will see Fleets from their followers at the top of their timeline. Twitter said users won't have the ability to share Fleets with a smaller group of people. Users also won't be notified if a follower screenshots their Fleet so they might still be wary about posting more candid remarks. Twitter, which has been testing Fleets in Brazil, Italy, South Korean and India, said its  research shows users do feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts when the content is ephemeral.

Twitter has also been doubling down on audio features. The company is testing a way for users to share audio clips in public tweets and direct messages. It's also experimenting with private online spaces where users can chat with others through audio like the social media app Clubhouse. 

Experimenting with more ways to share content could benefit Twitter because it would encourage users to spend more time on the platform, giving the social network more opportunities to display ads. Opening the social network to more types of content, however, comes with challenges and risks. Online harassment and the spread of misinformation is still an ongoing problem for social networks including in ephemeral and private spaces. The introduction of more audio and ephemeral content could make it more difficult to flag people who are breaking the site's rules. 

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Beykpour said the company has been focused on giving people more control over their experience on Twitter, including in new formats. "It's not just Twitter as a platform sort of policing what people do...that's sort of an impossibility for us to do at scale," he said. The company, though, will have to balance concerns that these controls could be used to exclude others who have different viewpoints.

Twitter said it's testing audio chat rooms called spaces with a small group of people who are more impacted by online abuse such as women and people from marginalized backgrounds. 

Maya Gold Patterson, a product designer at Twitter, said as a Black woman she's experienced online harassment including on Twitter. "It is a personal matter for me to get this right, and the team is interested, and the company is interested, in hearing first from this group of people on their feedback about audio spaces," she said during a press call. The designer compared spaces to feeling comfortable sitting at a table at a well-hosted dinner party even if you don't know everyone.

Twitter also needs to make sure that audio and more visual content are accessible for the deaf and blind, respectively. The company, she said, also has a team that focuses on making Twitter more accessible to people with disabilities. Twitter is working on making transcriptions of voice tweets and other media on Twitter available in 2021. 

Outside of introducing new ways for people to converse online, Twitter is also experimenting with tools to make the platform feel safer. The company has been rolling out new safety features such as giving people the ability to control who can reply to their tweets. Christine Su, a senior product manager at Twitter, said that the company is testing new methods where users can share private feedback or an apology. 

"That may look like a notification. That's like a gentle...elbowing from someone that you follow or it also may look like a nudge," she said.