Twitter’s custom timelines won’t kill Storify but could become robust filters

Twitter announced Tuesday a “custom timelines” feature that seems to mimic many of Storify’s functions. But is it a Storify killer?

All Tweetdeck users will soon be able to drop individual tweets into a “custom timelines” column with a name and short description. Then, those curated timelines are publicly accessible and can be embedded and shared. Here’s an example:

Twitter custom timelines vs. Storify

Among the apparent drawbacks: No ability to add text between tweets. Storify embeds can often stand alone as stories with all necessary context included, thanks to in-line comments advancing a narrative. Custom timelines will likely become a valuable tool for quickly compiling tweets, but that’s all they are now — compilations of tweets. Storify, of course, draws from multiple social media sources.

Another Storify advantage: It allows you to reorder your story elements, while custom timelines frustratingly displays tweets only in the order they were added to the timeline, from bottom to top. If order matters to you, one wrong move means you’ll have to completely rebuild the custom timeline. Surely that will change.

The big reason I shied away from Storify in past blog posts like this one about tweets from the Bradley Manning verdict was the way tweets appeared in Storify versus how they appeared individually embedded. When covering breaking news, timestamps matter, and Twitter’s developer display requirements used to restrict timestamps from being any more specific than the hour or the date. Happily, Storify reached an agreement with Twitter in August to display tweets in their full glory, down-to-the-minute timestamps and all.

Ironically, though, Twitter’s new custom timelines feature doesn’t give tweets the full embedded treatment. The first tweet in the custom timeline embedded above looks very different when embedded on its own:

The slimmed-down format of tweets in custom timelines makes for a cleaner but incomplete experience. If you want exact timestamps or link previews, Storify’s the more comprehensive tool — for now.

Custom timelines API

Meanwhile, Twitter also will be rolling out a custom timelines API to automate the process of selecting tweets. This could have enormous storytelling value, particularly during big breaking news when it’s difficult to manually wade through thousands upon thousands of tweets.

Liveblogging platforms such as ScribbleLive have achieved something close to this by allowing automatic posting of tweets by certain users or those containing certain terms or hashtags. But Twitter is likely looking to offer more robust capabilities here. Maybe it’ll eventually allow users to filter out tweets by non-verified users, or by users with very few followers. I could even see custom timelines one day filtering out breaking news tweets containing language similar to other tweets that were flagged or called out as inaccurate by users responding to them.

Twitter says custom timelines are “rolling out over the next several days,” whereas the API “will be available to a small group of selected partners.”

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