Just What You Always Wanted: Twitter, The Email

How Twitter’s trying to stop you from running away screaming because there’s too much stuff to follow. posted on

There are too many services, too many feeds for those services, and too many things in those feeds for you to see everything in there that you’d actually care about. For all the trouble you may be going through to see everything all the time, you’re probably missing something.

That’s the idea behind Twitter’s new email digest — it’s basically a weekly newsletter with the things Twitter thinks were most important in your feed that day, things you might’ve missed. Because there are too many things.

Of course, Twitter’s far from the only company to turn to newsletters in the last couple of years to keep you engaged, given all the blogs, tweets, statuses and updates swirling around your computer or phone. There’s been something of an newsletter email renaissance (for those and other reasons, like ad money). As Dave Pell of the very excellent and highly recommended NextDraft newsletter told me (via email, of course), “People just want to be able to take a breather and know they won’t necessarily miss anything funny, important or interesting.” And while tweets “flow by and disappear into the black hole that is the Internet of five minutes ago,” the “interesting links and stories you find in an email newsletter are always right where you left them.”

So, you’ve probably heard about the “social graph” in the context of Facebook — a kind of map of everybody you’re connected to. Twitter’s thing is the interest graph, which is sort of like a map of your interests, based on things like the tweets you engage with (favorite, retweet, reply), the people you follow, and the things that the people you follow do (also like favorite, retweet and reply). So if I follow Ritual and MadCap Coffee, or retweet their tweets, I’m probably into coffee. This is what powers that Discover tab that you probably don’t use, and now, the newsletter. (Remember Summify? It’s those dudes’ work.) The stories and tweets that Twitter’s newsletter delivers is based on what the people you follow are engaging with the most, and what they’ve been talking about.

You’ll notice the newsletter works without you being engaged — keeping it true to the spirit of a newsletter, as Pell outlines. Bringing us to the other reason it exists. Yes, it surfaces stuff you missed because you’re a busy and important person who follows a lot of people tweeting a lot of interesting things, but it’s also designed for people who don’t check Twitter often and don’t follow terribly many people, showing them what’s happened while they’re gone — hopefully bringing them back to Twitter if they’ve been gone for a while. Which is exactly why the newsletter is turned on by default.

Still, email? Isn’t it broken or dead or something? Actually, email “is still the killer app,” says Pell. “It looks great on all your devices and the user experience is always exactly what you’ve come to expect.” Maybe more than that, he adds, “I think people enjoy the intimacy of receiving an email.”

There may be something to email as a medium for this — even my read later services, which I use as a feed to escape from feeds, have become something of just another set of feeds. Though it’s effectively the most highly curated feed I look at, since I’m the one doing the curating. (Facebook’s Newsfeed was once a highly curated feed — it did a pretty good job of picking out what was relevant to me and wasn’t, though that hasn’t personally been the case since Facebook started allowing other sites and apps to plug in with Open Graph. A Facebook newsletter would be very, very weird though. Imagine the headlines: “This Girl You Went to High School With Has 4th Child.”) Still, feeds are feeds, and when you want to escape, there is something refreshingly static about a well-crafted email.

On the other hand, I wonder just how well crafted are Twitter’s algorithm-processed emails going to feel, though. And if people are hiding from their Twitter feeds, do they want tweets leaking into their inbox? I’m not entirely sure.

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