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Oct. 6, 2015, 9 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

Twitter unveils its own news digests, and some news orgs are participating

The initiative formerly known as “Project Lightning” introduces curated collections of tweets around news, sports, and entertainment, and some news organizations will be able to make their own.

Twitter has always been a place to find out what’s going on in the world, with a little help from the crowd. The catch is that you have to know the right people to follow if you want to track the path of a hurricane or question this year’s selection of Emmy winners.

Twitter hopes to make the platform more welcoming to newcomers with the launch of “Moments” on Tuesday. It offers curated tweets tied to news and other events. Previously known as “Project Lightning,” the new feature debuts in the latest app update with its own dedicated tab and a snazzy lightning bolt button. Moments will also be available at Twitter.com.

The “moments” are mini news digests of tweets across a range of topics, from entertainment and sports to news, with splashy full-screen photos and videos. Each individual moment is made up of about 10 tweets.

Moments also allows users to follow stories they’re interested in for a limited period of time. In the past, if you wanted to follow an event like the VMAs or the Super Bowl, you had to stay glued to a hashtag or follow a group of people. If you follow a story through Moments, curated tweets around it will be inserted into your main timeline while the event is taking place.

This has already been a big news week for Twitter. The company officially named Jack Dorsey CEO, again. Part of Dorsey’s mandate is to get Twitter in front of new users. As he said in an earnings call in July: “People all over the world know of the power of Twitter, but it’s not clear why they should harness it themselves.”

It’s no secret that Twitter has been trying to find ways to increase its audience and help new users become more familiar with the service. Twitter has tried to manufacture news discovery in the past; before Moments there was the Discover tab.

While die-hard Twitter users may find Moments useful, it’s clearly targeted at curious or casual users.

“Moments are for those users who have not had time yet to invest in creating their perfect home timeline,” said Andrew Fitzgerald, who is heading up the curation team for Moments.

Moments feels like a “catch-me-up” type of news digest, using tweets as the building blocks of a brief. Each story is packaged by editors who have been tracking news and conversations rising on Twitter.

“We want each moment to tell a story, to have a beginning, middle, and end, and highlight the best tweets that are representative of a conversation,” Fitzgerald said.

Twitter is just the latest technology company to add editors to its payroll. Companies like Snapchat, Instagram, and Apple have also created editorially driven products.

While Fitzgerald is quick to say that his team is not producing a “news product” itself, editors are using many techniques that would be found in digital newsrooms. For example, they’re developing their own guidelines on verifying tweets around breaking news.

Fitzgerald said the editors “come from a variety of different backgrounds, but have in common an expertise in finding the best content on Twitter.” So far the group is focused on news and events in the U.S., but Twitter plans to create editor teams for Moments in other regions as well.

Twitter is also partnering with a handful of media companies that will create collections for Moments. Companies like BuzzFeed, Bleacher Report, Fox News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post will get access to the same curation tools that editors on Fitzgerald’s team use to produce the digests. The newsrooms will be able to embed their collections on their own sites and have them fed into the Moments tab.

Cory Haik, executive director for emerging news products at The Washington Post, said Moments fits with the paper’s focus on developing new storytelling formats for mobile.

“We’re trying to do deliberate small-screen storytelling,” she said.

Haik said the Moments tools are relatively easy to use, similar to creating a custom embeddable timeline.

The Post, like many newsrooms, regularly tries to find ways of incorporating tweets into storytelling — by collecting them using something like Storify, or by directing readers to events that are being live-tweeted. Haik said Moments will make it easier for journalists to collect their reporting in one place.

Specifically, Haik thinks Moments will be useful to reporters in the field covering events as they unfold in near real-time. Take the Amtrak train derailment in Vermont, for instance: A journalist could convey all the necessary details over a series of tweets that could be packaged as a mobile-first story.

“It’s the first thing I’ve seen in a while that is straight-up storytelling for pieces on mobile and social,” Haik said.

POSTED     Oct. 6, 2015, 9 a.m.
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