The next step for Twitter: Multi-Quote-Tweet

As someone currently experiencing substantial amounts of collective intelligence on Twitter, here’s some of what I’m seeing as the emerging edge of new behaviors and culture, and one bottleneck on our capacity to think together and make sense of the world.

Some of us are pioneering a new experience of Twitter that’s amazing, and that wouldn’t be possible on any other platform that exists today.

Conversation is thinking together.

Collective intelligence is, at its core, good conversation.

Many people, on and off Twitter, think of it as a shouting fest, and parts of it are. And… at the same time, on the same app, with the same features but some different cultural assumptions, there are pockets where people are meeting the others, making scientific progress, falling in love, healing their trauma, starting businesses together, and sharing their learning processes with each other.

Those sorts of metrics—as hard to measure as they are—form a kind of north star for Twitter. This creature has the potential to be the best dating app (for some people) and a way better place for finding your dream job than LinkedIn (for many people). And so on.

Cities have increased creativity & innovation per capita per capita, ie when you add more people each person becomes more, because more people & ideas can bump into each other. The internet is a giant city, and this is far more true on Twitter than any other platform, particularly because of how tightly it allows the interlinking of ideas with Quote Tweets.

Twitter is very much about “what’s happening [now]” but, as the world has been collectively realizing over the past decade, simply knowing “what’s happening” in some isolated way is meaningless and disorienting. Meaning comes from filtering & distilling & contextualizing what’s happening, and this is part of what Twitter is already so brilliant for, because everyone can talk to everyone and the ultra-short-form non-editable medium encourages you to tweet today’s thoughts today rather than drafting them today, editing them tomorrow, then scheduling them for next week’s newsletter.

When someone makes a quote-tweet, they’re essentially saying “I have some thoughts I’d like to share, that relate to the tweet here”. This might be a critique of the quoted tweet/thread, or it might be using the quoted material as a sort of footnote of supportive evidence or further reading or ironic contrast. This meta-commentary is very powerful, whether it’s used by someone reflected “I think what I really meant to say here was” or someone framing a thread they just read as an answer to a particular question they and their followers might care about.

Currently, however, it’s impossible to QT two or more tweets at once. This means that in the natural ontology of Twitter, there is no way to properly compare or contrast or relate different thoughts.

This contributes, I think, to the fragmented & divergent quality of thinking on Twitter: the structure of the app makes it hard to express convergent thoughts. You can use screenshots… but then all context & interlinking & copy-pastability is destroyed. You can have a meta-thread that pulls a bunch of things together… but each tweet in that thread is still only referencing one other tweet, so there’s no single utterance that performs the act of relating other utterances.

The amount of utterances that need to connect two other pre-existing utterances is huge. Thoughts shaped like:

  • X & Y are similar takes on the same thing by different people
  • X is a better articulation of Y
  • X is an earlier articulation of Y
  • X & Y contradict
    • (especially noteworthy if they were tweeted by the same person… did they change their mind or learn something new? or are they just saying what sounds good in a given moment, rather than from a deeper principle? or maybe there’s some deeper understanding they have where they don’t contradict)
  • X & Y are aesthetically related
  • X implies Y
  • which is better, X or Y?
  • if both X & Y are true, wouldn’t that imply Z!?
  • “How it started — How it’s going:”
  • responding to multiple similar questions in an AMA

Similarly to how the #hashtag & @-mentions evolved from user behavior, and the Retweet functionality evolved out of people copying others tweets and tweeting them out with “RT @username: ” at the start, and Quote Tweeting evolved out of people pasting a link to another tweet within their tweet… MultiQT is a natural evolution of the “screenshot of multiple tweets” and “linking tweets together as a train of thought using multiple QTs in a thread” behaviors.

I didn’t even realize quite how much I’d want this until I started mocking up the screenshots below by messing with the html in the tweet composer and being so sad I couldn’t just hit “Send Tweet”. I can already tell that like @-mentions and RTs, once we’re used to this it’ll feel absurd to think we ever lived without it.

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A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

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