Twitter recently released a new feature of its social media platform, a product called “Moments.”
Moments is intended to capture the highlights of Twitter and package them into an easy-to-consume product, which potentially marks a big step for Twitter in becoming more of a mass-market product to rival Facebook.
The following is from a blog post on Twitter’s official website, by the Product Manager for Moments, Madhu Muthukumar. “Every day, people share hundreds of millions of Tweets. Among them are things you can’t experience anywhere but on Twitter: conversations between world leaders and celebrities, citizens reporting events as they happen, cultural memes, live commentary on the night’s big game, and many more,” he wrote.
One common criticism of Twitter is its difficulty to navigate for new users who are unsure of which accounts to follow, or the role that hashtags play in interactions.
“We know finding these only-on-Twitter moments can be a challenge, especially if you haven’t followed certain accounts. But it doesn’t have to be,” wrote Muthukumar. The challenge of content curation is significant for Twitter, because it is in danger of becoming an alternative platform, like Reddit, if it does not find a way to appeal to mainstream users.
Despite its popularity among many college students, Twitter is at a massive disadvantage to Facebook when it comes to total users. As of late 2014, Facebook had 1.3 billion active monthly users, compared to 271 million for Twitter, per Forbes. In addition to that, according to a survey from the American Press Institute, 88% of Millennials are receiving their news from Facebook, a massive number by any means.
Twitter lags in users, but in a lot of ways the social media company harnesses something much more powerful than other social media websites. The platform has been a space in which communities form, but also one where discourse is shaped and even in some cases political movements can grow.
With Moments, it is going to be a test of Twitter’s ability under new CEO Jack Dorsey to bridge the gap between the hardcore, internet-native users that power the service, and the mainstream audiences that Facebook has attracted in droves. A fundamental question that Twitter must answer is this: Can Twitter take the world of hashtags and virality that exists in its core product, and bring it to a mass audience in an easily-packable product?
Facebook’s product is an extension of the real world, but Twitter is a world in itself. Facebook’s platform could never have lended itself to the viral growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has since become the pre-eminent 21st Century civil rights movement in the United States, and has grown to international scale. Twitter is widely credited as being the environment in which the movement grew, which is an example of how Twitter is different than its competitors.
Another such example of a political movement evolving on the platform is the Arab Spring in 2011, which many experts (specifically the University of Washington) claim occurred as it did because of social media, particularly Twitter. An article on UW’s website from late 2011 states, “although social media did not cause the upheaval in North Africa, they altered the capacity of citizens to affect domestic politics.”
A similar experiment that faced a lot of scrutiny was Snapchat’s Discover feature, where media publishers could produce native content to Snapchat and users could consume it within the app. Snapchat, like Twitter, is not a mainstream social media service, and it too is typically preferred by Millennials.
The Discover feature on Snapchat is considered a success, and one key element of its success is inherent to its structure. Discover is not an attempt at harnessing Snapchat’s core product and curating it, it is a platform for media outlets to alter their content so that it can be consumed on the platform. While one may use this example to urge Twitter to follow Snapchat’s model, it is important to remember that Twitter is a different kind of platform. Twitter is a platform where news happens.
As previously mentioned, Twitter played (or is currently playing) a central role in the Black Lives Matter movement and the Arab Spring, which make up two of the larger news stories in recent memory. Twitter enables a new wave of citizen (or “street”) journalists to have a platform and an audience, which means that Twitter is not just a place where people interact, like Facebook, but it is also a place where original content is being created.
Twitter is looking to leverage this with Moments, trying to take stories as they unfold on Twitter and package them into an easy-to-consume product for newcomers to the platform. Understanding the Black Lives Matter movement and the role Twitter played in the creation of it is difficult, and relatively complex. If it can be simplified into a Moment, there is the possibility that it can become something much cleaner, and easier to consume.
For Twitter, this would be able to serve as the bridge between its power-user base and the mainstream users it craves. It also cuts out a layer of abstraction, as the platform on which the stories unfold would also be the platform on which it would be presented to the audience. For a company that recently saw its valuation dip below its IPO (Initial Public Offering) stock price, Moments comes at a crucial time in the company’s history.
The product received mixed reviews from experts in its first few weeks, with Matt Kapko of CIO.com making the critique, “Moments won’t likely interest many of the company’s power users, but it could make the platform more appealing to beginners or more casual users.”
The team of curators is led by former Al Jazeera journalist Andrew Fitzgerald, who wants the platform to be a place where users can find the best of Twitter, he told The Verge.
It’s not yet clear if Moments is an extension of Twitter, or its own product. Consensus is still out on whether a platform like Twitter can be corralled into a simple, mainstream product that the average user will be able to consume.
Twitter can’t afford to not find out.