The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.
Fleets, we hardly knew ye. It’s a cliché, but also true. That’s because Fleets, true to its namesake, has been around only eight months. Twitter launched the feature, a Stories-like tool that allowed users to post messages that would disappear after 24 hours, in November; then, this week, Twitter announced it would be ending the service with a very succinct tweet: “we’re removing Fleets on August 3, working on some new stuff. we’re sorry or you’re welcome.”
Now, the passing of Fleets should definitely be met with whatever eulogizing seems necessary for you and yours (though it’s hard to imagine it was around long enough for anyone to truly mourn). But let’s talk about that second part—the “we’re sorry or you’re welcome” part. Has there ever been a more apt addendum to a company’s social media message in this day and age? Has there ever been a more succinct way to sum up how changes on almost all platforms are delivered and received by users? I say no.
In a blog post announcing Fleets’ impending doom, Ilya Brown, a Twitter vice president of product, admitted that the feature had been an experiment, one that hadn’t worked out. “If we’re not evolving our approach and winding down features every once in a while—we’re not taking big enough chances,” Brown wrote. It was the corporate blog version of the shrug emoji, and frankly that’s fine, but it’s hard not to wish the whole post was just “we’re sorry or you’re welcome.” Twitter is sorry it’s taking away this thing you didn’t ask for; you’ll never have to look at it again, you’re welcome. Twitter is sorry it’s taking away this thing you might’ve grown fond of, but you had it for a while—you’re welcome. Twitter is sorry you sometimes call it a “hell site”; but it also knows how much time you spend there. You’re welcome.
This is neither a dig at Twitter nor a celebration of its work. It just is. The business of social media lives and dies on how well it can adapt new features. Sometimes those features look like things that were made popular on other platforms (Fleets looked a little like Instagram Stories, which looked a little like Snaps …), but Twitter has had a lot of success adapting the tricks users were already pulling: creating a retweet function to allow what people were already doing with “RT,” allowing people to tag other users using the @ symbol. Perhaps Fleets failed because it wasn’t something people were already doing—unless you count the prevalence of tweet-deleting.
Here, then, is where Twitter’s apologetic language seems most apt. Because if there’s one thing Twitter should be sorry for, it’s adding features in low demand rather than the ones people have been asking for for years. Like an Edit button. The appeal (I think) of Fleets was that it allowed for more ephemeral thoughts; users worried less about mistakes made because the message was gone in a day. But those anxieties would be lessened—and the need for Fleets greatly diminished—if people knew they could fix fuck-ups in normal tweets. Twitter could also put more resources into its content-moderation and anti-harassment efforts, but that’s another story.
In the end, Fleets were as fleeting as their creators intended. That’s OK. Very few things in the tech world are anything less than ephemeral. (Reme