Twitter is going live. After years of attempting to compete with market leader Facebook on its own turf, Twitter is poised to embrace the key aspect that differentiates the two social networks with a new feature, the code-named Project Lightning, which will allow users to follow live events through curated streams of tweets, photos and videos.
Those events could be organised events such as the World Cup final or Eurovision, or breaking news events such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
According to Buzzfeed’s Mat Honan, who met with the team creating the feature, the events will be presented as editorially driven collections.
“These collections are designed to take advantage of images and videos associated with a particular event, and to bring them to life,” he writes.
“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.”
Although created by Twitter using its networks, the collections will also be embeddable outside the site, a factor that could prove important in the network’s continuing struggles to attract new users.
Eventually, the company forsees creating “seven to 10” events a day and opening up the tools to other organisations.
The concept resembles “Live Stories”, a feature introduced in 2014 by ephemeral messaging app Snapchat. Also editorially driven (rather than algorithmically curated), Live Stories sees Snapchat pull in the best photos and videos from an event or location over the previous 24 hours, and present them as a two- to three-minute reel for users to watch.
According to Ben Schwerin, Snapchat’s director of partnerships, those stories “draw an audience of 20 million people in a 24-hour window” – a huge number for an editorial product, albeit still small in the world of Silicon Valley user counts.
And an estimate by industry news site Re/Code puts the value of adverts alongside those stories as $400,000 per ad.
Twitter has long been the leader among social networks for live events. The app’s focus on displaying the latest tweets, in reverse chronological order, allows it to highlight breaking news far faster than Facebook’s curated news feed.
However, Twitter has struggled to turn that lead into financial success, or even use it to increase user sign-ups. The company has stalled at about 300m active users (a fifth of Facebook’s user count) and barely a tenth of its revenue.
The issue seems largely to stem from the difficult “onboarding” process at Twitter: it remains hard to leap from being a new user, following no-one, to having a good experience on the site.
That has led to some pressure on Twitter to become more like Facebook, offering a curated timeline with a de-emphasis on real-time content, even as such changes infuriate “power users” of the site.
Project Lightning could see Twitter moving in the opposite direction, doubling-down on what distinguishes it from its larger rival. It bears a strong similarity to a feature proposed in a mammoth June blogpost by Twitter investor Chris Sacca, who wrote that “live is the biggest opportunity yet”.
“The necessary elements are: A separate tab in Twitter (or app); thoughtfully curated follows to build the initial stream; human editors; scheduling and promotion to build traffic; [and] no permanent commitment nor login required,” Sacca wrote.
Shortly after Sacca’s blogpost, the Twitter chief executive, Dick Costolo, stepped down, and the company’s co-founder Jack Dorsey returned to the fray as interim boss.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010