Twitter’s future is newsletters and podcasts, not tweets
With Revue and a slew of other new products, Twitter is trying hard to move past texting.
Image: Liv Iko/Protocol
Twitter was once a home for 140-character missives about your lunch. Now, it's something like the real-time nerve center of the internet. But as for what Twitter wants to be going forward? It's slightly more complicated.
In just the last few months, Twitter has rolled out Fleets, a Stories-like feature; started testing an audio-only experience called Spaces; and acquired the podcast app Breaker and the video chat app Squad. And on Tuesday, Twitter announced it was acquiring Revue, a newsletter platform. The whole 140-characters thing (which is now 280 characters, by the way) is certainly not Twitter's organizing principle anymore. So what is?
Twitter was always just about speed. The initial 140-character limit that became associated with the platform was a technical limitation — required to fit everything into a text message, then the quickest way to reach people — not a statement about brevity being the soul of anything. Many of the moves Twitter has made over the years have been in service of making Twitter even faster: faster to show users good stuff with algorithms, faster to publish with Fleets, faster to spread information with RTs and quote tweets. Even when Twitter decides not to do something, the reasons usually come back to speed. Take the much-desired edit button: One reason Jack Dorsey has given for not including one is that it "means we'd have to delay sending that tweet out … we'll probably never do it."
Rather than think of Twitter as a social network or a 140-character writing tool, it's helpful to think of Twitter the way Dorsey does. "At its core Twitter is public messaging," he said in 2016. "A simple way to say something, to anyone, that everyone in the world can see instantly."
That tweet came in part in response to a Recode story that claimed Twitter was considering expanding its text limit to 10,000 characters. Dorsey didn't quite acknowledge the plan, but he didn't shoot the report down, either. He also explained why longer-form text might be a powerful part of Twitter. "We've spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it," he tweeted (in a Notes app screenshot, of course). "Instead, what if that text … was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That's more utility and power."
Increasingly, Twitter is also thinking about what Twitter looks like outside of its own apps. With Project Bluesky, the company is investigating turning Twitter into a protocol rather than a platform, so the Twitter that users know today would be just one way to tap into the social graph and content flowing through it. And with Revue, Twitter is heading into users' email inboxes. Revue appears to be a good fit at Twitter, actually: Its platform has always focused on curation, making it easy for newsletter writers to grab a bunch of links, add commentary and send it to subscribers. Which sounds an awful lot like Twitter — only longer.
The Revue acquisition, and some of Twitter's other recent moves, also make clear where the company is headed as a business. It's leaning into working with creators, trying to help people build audiences and make money on the platform so that they'll keep spending time there. Twitter is way behind on this front. Twitter is, for most creators, a marketing vehicle, a public way to send fans to the Instagram/Twitch/TikTok/Substacks that make them actual money.
By acquiring a newsletter provider, Twitter brings at least one part of that in-house. "Revue will accelerate our work to help people stay informed about their interests while giving all types of writers a way to monetize their audience," Twitter's Kayvon Beykpour and Mike Park wrote in the blog post announcing the acquisition. The same could soon be true for Breaker with podcasts, and Spaces with audio events. If 280-character Twitter can continue to be a powerful marketing engine, but all that marketing can drive toward Twitter's other, higher-fidelity messaging tools, Twitter stands to be a useful home for lots of creators. And, of course, if creators stay, so do users.
When Dorsey said last year that Twitter was thinking about what a subscription model for Twitter might look like, these are almost certainly the products he was thinking about. "$9.99 a month for the really good tweets" is a tricky line to walk for an ad-based business, and it's not in line with the way Dorsey has always thought about Twitter. (After all, is there anything slower than a paywall?) But paid newsletters, paid podcasts, ticketed Spaces events and all manner of other similar products could add new revenue streams. Twitter could also be trying to make money from creators themselves, too: It has at least run surveys asking how users would feel about paying to upload longer videos, get better analytics, or add custom badges to their profile.
There's no guarantee any of this will work. Twitter's history with integrating new products is spotty, and many creators are still wary of the company after it was so quick to kill Vine. But this is what Twitter wants to be: the internet's universal communication tool, with all the new features that requires.