Twitter Just Solved Its Biggest Problem: Words

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 29 2013 6:55 PM

Twitter Just Solved Its Biggest Problem: Words

Twitter inline images, videos
Blah, blah, blah. Just show us the baby already!

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Words. They have their uses. When you're trying to communicate something, but for some reason you don't have the relevant photos or videos handy, words can be just the ticket. Certainly they represented a marked improvement over grunts and roars when they were first introduced. They've had a good run.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

But let's face it: Words are old hat. They're suboptimal from a UX perspective, because they're aesthetically monotonous, and their meaning is not always easily grasped at first glance. They demand of the user a form of engagement—"reading"—that can be mentally daunting. Some people can't do it at all. And even those who can are likely to find their attention straying if confronted with too many words at once. After a while, if they're not careful, the words all sort of run together and the eye begins to yearn for something more instantly gratifying upon which to alight.


Be honest: You've already skipped on down to the pictures below these words, haven't you? And if you haven't, you're sorely tempted to do so at this very moment.

Instagram gets it. Pinterest gets it. Snapchat and Tumblr get it.  Even Facebook sort of gets it.

And, as of today, Twitter gets it too—finally. The last of the text-centric social networks, Twitter until approximately 4 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, stood as a vestigial bastion of logophilia on the social Web, clinging to 140-character text strings as its base unit of sharing. You could link to pictures and videos in tweets, but they remained subordinate to the words, concealed behind a link or a "view photo" button. No longer. In an update rolled out quietly, almost apologetically, Twitter this afternoon began displaying pictures and Vine videos directly in tweets in users' timelines. Now the words are subordinate: The images are far larger than text-based tweets,

I could use more words to describe this change, but why waste your time when I can show you instead?

The innovation has of course dismayed a smattering of loyal Twitter power-users. That's to be expected. But as Twitter reviews its balance sheet in preparation for going public, it surely can't help but notice that it possesses a surplus of loyal power-users and a deficit of casual visitors. That deficit is what has prevented the site from approaching Facebook-level ubiquity, not to mention Facebook-level riches. And it's all words' fault.

Join me, then, in cheering the dawn of a new Twitter—a Twitter in which words are relegated to their rightful role as captions. It's a Twitter for the latter 90 percent of the 21st Century, and for the lazier 90 percent of society. Or, perhaps more accurately, for the 90 percent of society that's willing to own up to its laziness.

Or, perhaps more accurately still, for the people who account for nearly 90 percent of Twitter's revenue:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.