New service aims to expand Twitter's reach with curated content around major events, with real-life editors.
I don't really use hashtags, but if I did, I'd probably file this under #gamechanger. Obviously I'd then follow that up with a #cringe for using hashtags like that and… well, you can see why I don't.
But it kind of looks like Twitter is moving away from hashtags as the way to sort content – or at the very least, not being so over-reliant on them.
The plan is for the social site to start curating user content based on current events – everything from the World Cup to a natural disaster unfolding. Users (and non-users – we'll get to that in a minute) will be able to see content picked out by Twitter staff that report live on a story as it develops, creating a timeline specifically for events.
“These collections are designed to take advantage of images and videos associated with a particular event, and to bring them to life,” wrote Mat Honan of Buzzfeed, as he met the team behind the feature.
“None of that media is presented in the standard Twitter timeline – each tweet, picture or video will take up the entire screen of your phone. You'll view them one at a time by swiping. Importantly, collections will include – and thus promote – not only pictures and videos posted to Twitter, but Vines and Periscope videos as well,” he explained.
Twitter plans on curating between seven and ten of these events per day, while allowing outside organisations to curate their own with the same tools. Crucially, the company is hoping that this will draw interest in the site beyond the current userbase, which still represents something of a small niche compared to behemoths such as Facebook.
To that end, not only will all Project Lightning content be viewable without a Twitter account, it'll be embeddable in other sites as well. But Twitter isn't neglecting its existing users – if you're a current frequent tweeter, and want to follow an event, you can add it temporarily and you'll see the curated content until it finishes. It's like you temporarily follow all the people the company thinks are worth listening to, but only for the duration of the event.
Events can be consumed as a literal timeline, too – as Honan explained: “As you scrolled through tweets about the Super Bowl during the third quarter, the bar might start an hour or two before kickoff, and as you progressed through all of the curated videos and photos you'd eventually hit the most current, identified by a lightning-bolt icon.”
While it raises some interesting questions about Twitter becoming a publisher rather than a content platform (as soon as you have human editors cherry-picking the best bits, the area becomes extremely grey), this looks like it will be a much easier way of following a story than through a hashtag search riddled with spam and white noise.
More importantly, at a time when many analysts think Twitter should mimic Facebook, the company has decided to veer off in a completely different direction. You've got to applaud that.