In late 2020, Twitter launched its Snapchat Stories clone, Fleets, too much fanfare. It promised a friendlier, easier way to share on Twitter, and the potential to lower the barrier to entry for those that might be afraid to post.
Just seven months later, Twitter is killing the Fleets feature off entirely on August 3, saying that it took a ‘big chance’ with the feature, but that these types of things ‘don’t always work out as planned.’ While it’s a shame Twitter is shutting off Fleets so prematurely, as I thought it was a fun way to peek into people’s lives, it’s a rare example of a big technology company trying something crazy — and actually admitting when it didn’t work.
Kayvon Beykpour, Product Lead at Twitter said as much in a tweet:
“big bets are risky and speculative, so by definition, some of them won’t work. If we’re not having to wind down features every once in a while, then it would be a sign that we’re not taking big enough swings.”
As tech as an industry has matured, it’s become common to build big, complicated new features, and then just let them rot when they don’t work out. Or, worse, companies refuse to give up, sacrificing the rest of the product’s functionality in order to make people use it. When was the last time you saw a company admit the big new thing it launched wasn’t a success?
Instagram is the worst culprit, often going to great lengths to get people to use new features like Reels, rearranging the most commonly used buttons in the tab bar of the app just to make people tap on it. But, it’s likely every app you use has something like this, a dusty corner that refuses to die, despite few people actually using it.
I’ve worked for a bunch of technology companies and it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that people absolutely need the feature you’re working on and that they’ll embrace it in droves. Often, users are perfectly happy with your service, and just want to get on with their day — and your new thing is getting in the way of that.
When it doesn’t work out as the team thought, they tend to hyperfocus on why it isn’t catching on, iterating endlessly to make it just right, adding features and tweaking buttons in the hope of some change that might start making people use it. Sometimes this might be true; perhaps the first version wasn’t quite good enough for users or was missing one thing, and sure enough, people started embracing it.
Other times, however, it’s hard for teams to admit that it isn’t going to work out. Their jobs might feel like they depend on making the feature succeed, and many companies aren’t really set up to admit that big flashy thing didn’t do what they hoped it would. I’m sure I’ve worked on teams that should have removed a feature when it wasn’t working, but when the entire industry is focused on adding more functionality, removing things isn’t top of mind.
Twitter could have spent the next year trying to make Fleets work, pouring resources into the feature to make it a true Snapchat and Instagram competitor. Instead, Twitter cut its losses, shut Fleets down, and is moving onto something more important.
That focus matters, especially on a product the size of Twitter — that team could be working on making improvements to a feature that already works, or fixing problems that have existed for years.
Twitter struggled for years with an inability to ship basic features or big new ideas, so the arrival of Fleets felt like it was finding momentum again. Since then, the company seems to be constantly trying bold new ideas, and not being afraid of failing is likely a part of that shift.
Trying something big, launching it, admitting it didn’t work, and moving on is not easy. Seeing Twitter willing to swing big and fail, in public, sets a great example for all of us in technology: try those big ideas, but if they don’t work out, that’s OK because you learned something.