Exploring Twitter’s long-form content: Driving engagement

Raif Shareef
5 min readAug 15, 2023

Elizabeth Laraki posted on the design fails and fixes for ‘long-form content’ on Twitter/X.

This article is inspired by that post, in this we will dive deeper into this feature, focusing on engagement.

The following principles of product design will be used as a scope to review this feature;
- How is this innovative?
- Is this useful?
- Is it easy to use?

Background

In 2022, Twitter began testing long-form content with ‘Notes’. Such articles featured rich formatting and media content. Potentially, this would be useful for deep diving into ideas and thoughts without having to maintain a separate blog and website.

At the time, people used to share longer content as an image, sometimes from their phone notes. This was one pain point this feature was solving. Additionally, long threads were difficult to follow and didn’t really work for long-form content.

Notes when launched appeared on the feed as an external post would with a thumbnail image and when a reader clicks on the post, the article view has all the content.

In 2023, after months of being in the dark, this feature was brought back to life and rebranded as articles allowing Blue subscribers to publish long-form content directly on the feed.

Reviewing with design principles

How is this innovative?

Pros: It does add a lot of value for the platform and writers alike. Which will bring in more business as well as a possible ad revenue sharing with writers.

Cons: Distribution (more on this later) and visibility concerns of long-form content getting lost in the feed. And there is no way to distinguish or see all long-form content separately.

Is this useful?

Pros: This feature is useful to maintain user retention on the platform. For readers, this is useful to engage with writers directly. Additionally, supporting independent writers and creators.

Cons: This might increase the workload on combatting misinformation and more moderator manpower would be required.

Is it easy to use?

Pros: For the reader, it's definitely easier to read rather than loading a separate website which will throw several things like cookie preference, popups, ads, and all other marketing nonsense. Reading directly on Twitter is definitely easier.

For the writers, ease of use is discussed more in the key issue section.

Key issues

Elizabeth’s post shared a simple diagram of how the interface is designed vs the actual experience of writers.

The key issues highlighted in that post were:

  1. Limited engagement
  2. Difficult to fine-tune the 280 characters previewed in the timeline
  3. Formatting is stripped
  4. Images are messed up
  5. No API for 3rd party tools

For the remainder of this article, I’ll be focusing on engagement.

Improving Engagement

The options to engage are limited in choice; on the feed, end of the post.

Elizabeth suggested fixing this with a floating engagement button & inline expansion.

There are some missed opportunities with the current state and the above fixes.

The function of Twitter used to be distribution. Sure, you could repost on your own, but this isn’t really distribution. Normally, you’d post the blog somewhere else, and share the link.

Twitter is where conversations happen and it's difficult to address a certain point by reposting the whole thing.

Long-form content in this current state does not enable meaningful engagement and conversations around an idea.

Here is how I would fix this

Allow readers to highlight parts of the long-term content, which prompts the reader with two actions.

  1. To reply to highlighted part.
  2. Share a quote on their own feed, with their own thoughts.

This fix creates meaningful engagement with interesting ideas and thoughts from long-form content as opposed to general replies and sharing the whole thing.

Let’s evaluate this proposed fix based on the predetermined design principles.

Highlighting to share and comment is a common feature among blogs and news websites.

does it very well.

How is this innovative?

Pros:

  1. A unique way of engaging with such content could be a novel interaction with specific interesting points.
  2. A possible solution to the (re)distribution issue inside the platform.
  3. Differentiating factor from competitors while aligning with the platform’s original values of short and concise communication.

Cons:

  1. Twitter users might face challenges in adaption and possibly a learning curve as the feature would not be visible on the interface until the user highlights some text.
  2. This might overcomplicate the user interface.

Is this useful?

Pros:

  1. Engaging by comments and sharing is already a familiar concept in blogs and news websites, making interactions intuitive for users who are familiar.
  2. Once highlighted tooltips provide a clear call-to-action (reply or repost) for users. This will reduce confusion and can be useful to engage meaningfully.

Cons:

  1. Some users might not understand, and lack clarity on the options in tooltip and what it does, based on design and choice of wording.
  2. Some users might face mobile usability issues rising from how to highlight parts of text to limitations in screen size.

Is it easy to use?

Pros:

  1. Deeper engagement is enabled for users to share specific parts and thoughts directly while reading.
  2. Easier to focus and respond or repost content with relevant context.

Cons: May be abused, and used to promote negativity and hostile views.

  1. Could create unwanted clutter if alot of users engage. It might be difficult to manage an overwhelmingly high volume of highlighted shares and replies.
  2. Limited highlighable parts could make it difficult for readers to pick multiple points from all over the long-form content, impacting usefulness in some cases.

The proposed idea has some alignments with the design principles to varying degrees. While it is innovative and has potential for driving engagement, development requires careful execution to ensure ease of use and to keep the user experience simple.

The view of shared parts on feed would also need to indicate that this was an extract from a long-form content. Additionally, getting more people to read more for context and details.

It is essential to balance the novelty of the feature with usability for successful integration with Twitter/X platform.

How frequently do you use this feature on medium?

Let me know if you’d use this feature on X.

See you in the next one.

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Raif Shareef

Writes about product management and marketing. Always curious. Find me @ www.raifshareef.com