Twitter launches Moments, its long-awaited curation feature
Since Twitter's debut in 2006, journalists have used various workarounds to tell longer stories using the social network's characteristic 140-character bulletins. Corralling tweetstorms or livetweeting sessions into an article meant copying individual embed codes or relying on a third-party tool, such as Storify, to curate the news.
That changed for a select group of news organizations this morning when Twitter launched Moments, a new hub for news on the social network that doubles as a curation tool. Starting today, users will begin seeing a new kind of story on Twitter from a group of publishers that includes BuzzFeed, Fox News, Mashable, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Avid watchers of Twitter might recognize Moments better as Project Lightning, the working name given to the initiative when it was profiled by BuzzFeed in June. Although Moments has been fine-tuned in the intervening months, its essence remains the same: A place on Twitter for real-time stories selected by a team of about a dozen curators split between the social network's New York and San Francisco offices.
Since word of the project was first reported, Twitter has allowed select news organizations into a pilot program and allowed them to experiment with compiling their own stories on Moments. Those stories are eligible to be featured alongside collections curated by Twitter under the "Moments" tab, which sits between the Notifications and Messages tabs at the top of Twitter's desktop page. So far, Twitter has only featured Moments created by its own team, although that will likely change as the product rollout begins.
The concept of Moments stemmed from Twitter's desire to take some work out of curating an ideal mix of news in each user's feed, said Andrew Fitzgerald, director of curation at Twitter.
"For those of us who are heavy users of Twitter — employees of the company, journalists, politicians, celebrities — we all know it takes a lot of work to curate the perfect home timeline," Fitzgerald said. "And what we're hoping to do with Twitter Moments is make that process a little easier for everyone."
An early look at Moments on Monday gave some indicators of Twitter's editorial sensibilities. Of the eight stories featured prominently under the Moments tab, three were about professional sports, and the remainder consisted largely of breaking news concentrated in the U.S. Stories were anchored with prominent visuals, usually a combination of still photos and short Vine videos.
Moments seems to shine brightest on mobile devices, which allow readers to swipe through various stories in much the same way they would on Snapchat Discover. Images, videos and tweets expand to fill the entirety of the screen; once users finish swiping through, Moments invites them to tweet the story they just read or explore another collection.
Moments' ease of use on mobile devices is among the list of reasons The Washington Post intends to continue using the feature beyond the beta period, said Cory Haik, executive director of emerging news products at The Washington Post. Each moment is embeddable, making the pleasing aesthetic of each collection highly portable, Haik said.
"We've all been hacking around this for a long time," Haik said. "There's Storify, there's embedding tweets within a blog post — there's all kinds of tools that try to make it easy. But this does (all of) that, and it also makes it highly visual and easy to get through."
Haik says she's not worried about the prospect of losing referral traffic from readers who might decide to consume moments on Twitter rather than viewing recaps at The Post's website. She sees Moments as an opportunity to get The Washington Post's brand in front of Twitter's users and tell visual stories wherever The Post's readers are.
Haik cited breaking news as a primary contender for curation because Moments can help sort through the volume of tweets. She mentioned Monday’s Amtrak crash in Vermont as a likely candidate.
"With this tool, you can curate 15 tweets that can chronologically tell how it unfolded and who's there on the scene and what Amtrak has to say," Haik said. "Put it together and tweet it out, and you've got this nice little authoritative chronicling, by way of tweets, that tells you what's happened."
The debut of Moments represents the latest effort by a tech company to become a destination for news in addition to a distributor of it. In recent months, Facebook has debuted Instant Articles, an initiative that allows users to read news within the social network. Earlier this week, Reddit announced it was launching a news site called Upvoted. And in January, Snapchat launched Discover, a feature that drew an exclusive group of news organizations to create content specifically for the app.
The launch is a big step for Twitter, whose upper echelons have reportedly been riven by discord, disagreement and departures in recent months. On Monday, Twitter announced that former boss Jack Dorsey was returning to run the company as CEO, filling a vacancy created when Dick Costolo left the top job in July. Although Dorsey inherited Moments from his predecessor, he told BuzzFeed in June he remained committed to the project, calling it an "extremely engaging" concept.
Although Moments was first released to a limited group of of news outlets, Twitter intends to make it available for wider use over the next couple of weeks and months, Fitzgerald said. There are plans in the works to expand the feature internationally, but those aspirations are on hold until Twitter hires additional curators for the countries where it intends to bring Moments.
"This is going to be a very interesting way to use Twitter that we think folks of different backgrounds will appreciate," Fitzgerald said.