The best version of Twitter isn’t Oscars Twitter, Sports Twitter, Weird Twitter, Outrage Twitter, or Media Twitter. (It’s definitely not Media Twitter.) It’s Story Time Twitter.
Story Time Twitter always goes the same way. It begins with a first, probing tweet. “Can I tell you guys something?” Or “Oh my god, guess what just happened.” They gather us around the campfire, blankets over our knees, cocoa in our hands, ready. Then, over the course of 30 to 900 tweets, our narrator unspools their tale. It’s almost always insane, sprawling, and bizarre. Often you wonder if they’re lying, because on Twitter you should assume everyone is lying. The best versions of Story Time Twitter gather steam like a rolling snowball—each tweet gets a few more retweets than the last, and you start to see people you follow directing you to their timeline. “Get over here,” they say, “you have to see what’s happening right now.”
The most recent Story Time Twitter happened around Dave Holmes, an author and radio host, who rattled off 50 tweets over the course of an hour recounting the story of the “laziest, shoddiest grifters I have ever come across in my life.” I heard about it 15 or so tweets in (thanks @marklisanti) and immediately went back and caught up. Then the story consumed my attention completely. I opened @DaveHolmes in his own TweetDeck column, eager to not miss a single moment. Then TweetDeck froze because TweetDeck always freezes, so I opened his profile on Twitter’s website. Every time the “View 1 new Tweet” bar appeared above his timeline, I clicked it. For the next 45 minutes, I never left his page for more than 30 seconds.
There have been many stories like Holmes’s, and there will be many more. The story of Big Donk Susan (and its sequel) thoroughly captivated a corner of the Internet, and the unreal tale of Zola’s near-death trip to Florida with a prostitute she’d just met was picked up by news outlets all over the place. In a sea of news rehashes, jokey posturing, and all the other dumb things I see and do on Twitter every day, Story Time Twitter is the best reminder of how fantastic the platform can be.
In most ways, the Story Time Twitter reading experience is awful. You’re waiting for tweets, as the author painstakingly tries to contort a long story into some indeterminate number of 140-character chunks. Tweets get lost in your timeline unless you’re vigilantly paying attention. It’s hard to find where a story begins, and if an author is also replying to readers it can be hard to figure out what’s story and what isn’t. Sometimes tweets end mid-thought. When you’re back-reading, you scroll upward, which is horribly awkward. When you start reading, you have no idea how long a journey you’ve signed up for. You can always set up a TweetDeck column, which helps, or wait ’til it’s over and look for a Storify of the whole thing (or better yet, be a saint and make it yourself). Pro tip, by the way: When you’re reading someone’s story, also keep an eye on their mentions. It’s like having a raucous crowd and a rapt audience all at once. No matter what you do, though, this ain’t no immaculate Medium post.
But my god is it fun. Story Time Twitter feels alive. You see the audience there with you, you watch as more and more people come to discover the timeline. You can’t skip ahead, because the story’s being told right in front of you. You can reply with questions or comments. During Zola’s performance (and these are very much performances), Twitter users—and then eventually People magazine—started casting the movie that’s sure to be made about her adventures. The Big Donk Susan story was full of Vines and memes, from the author himself and from the many readers who followed along. It’s all the best things about Twitter—the immediacy, the back-and-forth, the feeling like you’re a part of something as it happens live—rolled into one.
Twitter, as it is wont to do, is eager to capitalize on this kind of storytelling. It’s always touted these “long-reads” as a perfect use for Moments, where you can flip through the tweets after the fact in a cleaner, simpler format. And as the company reportedly experiments with raising its character count to 10,000, it’s basically saying hey: Just do this all in one tweet. In both cases, though, Twitter wants to ruin the very thing that makes it so much fun. Story Time Twitter isn’t great because it’s beautifully presented or easy to parse; it’s great because it’s electric, chaotic, and fleeting. You got to be part of it because you were in the right place at the right time. That may be hard for Twitter to monetize or to sell to new users, but it’s the single most purely joyful and fun thing about Twitter. It’s why I still have that TweetDeck column open, just in case the story’s not over quite yet.