In a recent Wired Q&A video, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, stated clearly that the service is probably never getting an edit feature. For anyone who’s ever lamented typos permanently inscribed in a Tweet, that sounds like bad news. But if you look closely at why Twitter abhors editing, the decision makes sense. We can live without editing, even if we don’t have to like it.
An SMS Origin Story
To make sense of Twitter’s decision, it helps to be aware of its history and the challenges it faces that other social networks don’t. Twitter began as an SMS based service. You’d text to the service to Tweet. That’s part of the reason why Twitter limited you to 140 characters for years—that’s the character limit of a text message. That’s also why the company didn’t start without an edit button. Have you ever edited a text? No, because you can’t.
Edited Retweets Would Be Terrible
Twitter moved on from its humble origins, of course, so why not add an edit button now? The first problem is the retweet feature. It would be all too easy for someone to Tweet a particular opinion, amass a thousand or more retweets, and then edit the tweet to say the opposite of what the original message stated. Suddenly, thousands of people would be endorsing an opinion they didn’t intend to support.
YouTube already demonstrates that exact problem on a near-daily basis. It’s something of a fad to leave a comment, wait until it gets a thousand likes, then edit the comment with a message like “I edited this comment so you’ll never know why it has 1K likes.”
Imagine someone doing that but in a much more malicious fashion. I know, it’s hard to picture people being awful on the internet, but you can probably manage it.
Third-Party Apps Complicates Editing
It’s easy to point out that other services and social networking like Discuss and Facebook offer editing, some with timed windows and the ability to view history. Still, there’s a crucial difference—Facebook and other similar services don’t allow third-party app access. You won’t find a Facebook equivalent to Tweetbot or Plume; the company only allows access through the official app.
Since Twitter allows unofficial Twitter apps, it has to contend with the fact that the unofficial apps might not adopt any changes it introduces. Even if it did show an (Edited) tag and changelog history, that doesn’t mean Talon for Twitter will.
And ultimately, when it comes down to it, the detriments outweigh the benefits. Most people probably don’t care that much if their tweet has a typo. But they would care about misleading tweets, or finding out that something they retweeted changed into a horrible message.
You Can Fix Your Typos Anyway
If all you really care about are typos in your tweets, there’s an easy solution. Delete the tweet, then tweet it again without the typo. While it’s not elegant, it gets the job done.
And some services, like BetterTweetdeck, make the process easy. BetterTweetdeck is an extension for TweetDeck (Twitter’s other official web platform) that adds a ton of features not found in the app natively. One of those features cuts down the steps to fix a typo—instead of clicking to delete the Tweet, confirming the deletion, then scrolling up to write a new Tweet, BetterTweetdeck does all the work for you while dressing it up as an edit. It deletes the tweet, then repopulates that text in the input box so you can easily fix your mistake. It even works for retweets with added comments, too.
We may not like the news that an edit button is ever coming, but at least we know. And the reasoning for the decision is sound. Ultimately a few typos on Twitter aren’t the end of the world (even if it pains professional writers to say that). But an abused edit system would be unforgivable. So Twitter is making the right decision for the majority of its users.