How to unfuck Twitter

Because @Jack probably isn’t going to respond to your request for DM search

There are very few things that VC Twitter© can agree upon, but we seem to have found some common ground in our mutual distaste for Twitter as a product. In the words of product-leader-turned-VC Jeff Morris Jr, "If you want to go viral on Twitter, just complain about Twitter DMs because everybody will like your post and share it. It's like the one thing we can all agree on." If you need further evidence of the contempt for Twitter from a UX/UI perspective, look no further than this Hacker News post from 2016 — and note how few of these complaints have been meaningfully addressed over the past five years.

And yet, as so much of our lives have gone virtual, Twitter has become the only truly indispensable tool for fundraising and deal flow. VCs have opened their Twitter DMs and invited founders to pitch them via cold outreach. Advertising an open Twitter inbox (and rejecting the concept of the warm intro) has allowed investors to expand their reach with virtually no additional effort, a non-negotiable as the nucleus of the tech world moves from Silicon Valley to the cloud. Twitter has solidified its place in the holy trinity of the VC stack along with no-code giants Zapier and Airtable. Perhaps this is a result of VCs and founders being confined to their homes and chained to their keyboards for the past year. Regardless, I'm confident that Twitter will remain an integral part of the VC stack even once we're released back into the wild.

It’s been said that Twitter is "the most disruptive force to VC since AngelList.” While that’s probably a stretch, the social network has provided unique value to VCs outside of the standard networking and information sharing. But for every investor celebrating a deal that originated from a cold DM, there are 10 more lamenting that Twitter is useless for communication. Without a doubt, the most common complaint about Twitter’s product revolves around the DM search function. While users have tried tweeting directly at Jack Dorsey to address this struggle, those cries have been proven useless. 

It’s time to take matters into our own hands. Twitter provides API documentation for DMs, meaning that coders and no-coders alike have the ability to extract data from their messages and manipulate it as they please - in theory. For most users, it isn’t tenable to extract every single DM received into a separate tool. Sure, you could create a searchable archive in Airtable but… then what?

Another approach which many have taken is to automatically redirect conversations from Twitter to other platforms where they can be codified and searched more easily. The API docs make it easy enough to set up automated workflows based on keywords within a message. For example, a VC could set up an Integromat scenario that sends out an Airtable form anytime they receive a message containing the phrase "pitch deck." By using a form to collect deal flow information in a structured (and searchable) format, you cut down on the pain of manually wading through your inbox.

With the growing popularity of 506(c) funds, which allow for "general solicitation," Twitter has become a powerful tool for fundraising -- for emerging investors as much as for founders. Mac Conwell, a first-time fund manager with almost 30k followers, claims that Twitter is the reason he was able to raise his fund. Conwell (who lives in Baltimore, MD) has been vocal about how he's leveraged the 506(c) fund structure, along with his sizable Twitter following, to raise his first fund despite not having a traditional venture background or network.

Mac’s success is particularly amazing because discoverability on Twitter sucks. There’s no “Explore” or “FYP.” Twitter reinforces filter bubbles by design. The only way you’ll find new people to follow is if someone you already follow likes their content. From a product perspective, Twitter makes it easy for VCs to reinforce the walls of their pre-existing networks.

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Extensions that change the Twitter game

While Twitter PMs seem as uninterested in solving discoverability as they do in addressing DM search, their robust API makes it possible for others to build functionality on and around the platform. Tools like Flock, Twiangulate, and Circleboom provide insights on your current Twitter network and suggest how you might grow or refine it to be more valuable.

One of my favorite tools that has been built on the Twitter API is Twemex, "a browser extension for Twitter that automatically surfaces the most interesting ideas." The name comes from the word memex: "a tool for making connections between your own ideas and those of other people, all in public." Twemex leverages the Twitter API to effortlessly execute advanced search commands with the click of a button. But the tools also shows you the commands written out, giving you the ability to adjust if you please. One of my favorite Twemex features is "Random Highlights," which surfaces an assortment of tweets from users you follow. I’m optimistic that they’ll eventually expand this functionality outside of users who you already follow.

Twitter, more than any other social platform, has made every internet user think that they deserve a voice. Of course, this is mostly bad. But the fact of the matter is that, for VCs, the volume of opinions that are shared for free on Twitter can be a huge competitive advantage - if only you can cut through all the noise. Twitter creates a sense of urgency. Because of its low barrier to sharing and high-velocity distribution, it's often the first place people go to share information about new topics: current events, natural disasters, TV premieres, and which audio-first social app will come out on top.

But Twitter's lack of discovery function locks up a huge amount of its potential value. You can either be incredibly disciplined about who you follow and risk a more limited purview, or you can drown in the noise generated by keyboard warriors. Once again, Twitter's product team will do you no favors here — their Bookmark feature has no organization or search functionality, rendering it virtually useless. Tools like Readwise and Threader have attempted to solve this, but don't offer much flexibility. Readwise lets you save threads by category, but requires about 7 more clicks than simply bookmarking and has very limited integration options (and a bad UI). There's a decent Bookmarks Search extension, but it doesn’t give you the ability to categorize tweets as you save them.

If you're a desktop Twitter user (which I try to be, if only to keep myself from mindlessly doomscrolling past my bedtime), you can create a pretty seamless DIY bookmarking tool using Zapier's Chrome Extension (and actually, you can bookmark content from around the web rather than just Twitter). Feel free to steal the Zap I built here.

Twitter has given me a lot to be grateful for. Automatter wouldn’t exist without the connections I’ve built on the site and my content would be a lot less interesting without the perspectives I’ve gleaned from being a thread lurker. But honestly, I’ve spent way too much time seeking out the “good” on Twitter - the good people, the valuable advice, the differentiated takes. There is way more of the “bad,” and I’m tired of scrolling through the same fluffy threads multiple times to find the nuggets of value.

So, in the words of Packy McCormick, hit the road(map), Jack.

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