In billionaire investor Chris Sacca's recently penned an essay on how to improve Twitter, he noted that live events are Twitter's biggest opportunity, and what the platform does best. In suggesting how Twitter could capitalize on this, Sacca noted that live events should have their own focus, saying:
"Live Twitter can be built right into the main Twitter app, but it should certainly have its own tab so we can concentrate on the live experience free of distraction. Once we click on that tab, we should see a stream of Tweets prioritized not just for immediacy but for relevance as well."
Turns out he was onto something, it's been revealed today by BuzzFeed that Twitter is working on an evolutionary new functionality called 'Project Lightning' - and I must say, it sounds pretty great.
Ride the Lightning
Project Lightning is essentially an event stream, where all the top tweets and content from a particular event will be curated into their own list. The events could be pre-scheduled - like an awards show or sporting event - or they might be breaking news or trending topics, Twitter's leaving the door open on the specific parameters of how it might work at this stage.
When you open up the Twitter mobile app, there'll be a new button, featured prominently on screen. Once pressed, you'll be taken to a home screen of events to choose from - clicking onto an event will take you to a collection of curated tweets, Vines and Periscope videos from that specific event. Each piece of content will appear full-screen and the user will swipe through, one-by-one. Videos and images will load instantly (as quick as lightning?), and tweets with neither will take up the whole screen. The user will then be able to scan through each piece of content, providing them with a comprehensive, real-time overview of the event. As more live content is loaded into the collection, a progress bar at the bottom of the screen will extend, showing how much of the total content you've viewed.
BuzzFeed's mock-up of what Project Lightning might look like (via BuzzFeed)
Each collection will be human curated - Twitter's putting together a team of people in 'major markets throughout the world' who'll use Twitter's data tools to sort through emerging trends and put together the most relevant, contextual content. Twitter's VP of Global Media Katie Jacobs Stanton says Twitter's developing an editorial policy and guidelines to ensure quality and integrity remain top of mind when adding content to Project Lightning collections. This will ensure the streams remain relevant and engaging - and really, human curation of some form is a required element of this endeavor.
But here's where the real value and potential of Project Lightning kicks in. Project Lightning collections can be viewed by anyone. You can be a Twitter user, or not; you can be logged-in or not - anyone who wants to get real-time updates on live events can use Project Lightning collections to do so. They'll be available via the Twitter homepage, the mobile page - users can even embed collections on other pages and they'll continue to update as more real-time content is added. This is the key strategic element of Project Lightning, and one which may have it positioned to expand Twitter's user base to the next level.
Twitter's been under fire over it's under-whelming user growth stats in recent months. In their defense, Twitter has said that they have a great many users who aren't logged-in - more than double its active user-base, according to some estimates. Project Lightning, in part, is an effort to reach out to those non logged-in users and to better quantify, and convert, that reach. It also enables Twitter to showcase it's true strength, in real-time coverage. Rather than users having to log-in and navigate Twitter, they'll be shown a greatest hits collection of content focused specifically on the events they're, individually, interested in. Indeed, while Project Lightning collections will be determined by Twitter's new editorial team at first (and they'll be looking to cover seven to ten events per day), Twitter has left open the possibility that they could open up control of collections wider in future, providing opportunity to give more niche events the same focus.
On top of this, Twitter users can also subscribe to event streams and have those tweets appear in their timelines. Once the event is over, the tweets stop - so rather than having to locate the right people or accounts to follow for an event, you can just follow the collection and get all the most relevant content fed through to you for the duration of that event. This is also a great addition - this means you could follow along with all the latest and greatest tweets on the NBA Finals, for example, have them appear in amongst your regular timeline, and then they'll disappear from your feed once the game is over. And definitely, the emphasis is on 'greatest' in that last sentence - of course, you could follow along with trending hashtags as is, but they're often loaded with irrelevant or off-topic discussions, or marketing spam trying to get exposure through the feed. Having the content curated, again, is a major step.
The Silver Lightning
Project Lightning is a major step for Twitter, and a step in the right direction at that. The project incorporates one of Twitter's greatest strengths, in live event coverage, and uses it to tackle one of their greatest issues, in de-mystifying the way Twitter works. For many prospective users, Twitter can seem intimidating, a wall of never-ending text that's hard to follow and keep up with. Project Lightning fixes that, and showcases the power of Twitter's real-time coverage. The use of the full, vertical screen for each tweet or piece of content, while it may seem like a minor addition, also plays into the way consumers are now viewing content - Snapchat has put big emphasis on vertical content, and live-streaming apps Meerkat and Periscope both stream vertically also. While we don't know that's definitively how Project Lightning content will work, the ability for users to view and swipe through, enabling them to focus on each piece of individual content, is a good one.
Project Lightning's still some months away, but already, Twitter's excited about the possibilities - in Mat Honan's post on BuzzFeed, he notes that outgoing CEO Dick Costolo was 'bouncing in his chair' when he showed them the project (this was before Costolo announced he would be leaving the company). And it is an exciting development, one which has many possibilities and options for future development and expansion. Project Lightning is a major step for Twitter, and one which has the potential for serious impact on the wider social media landscape.
Main image via Shutterstock