The Living Newspaper

In a post on Medium earlier this year, M.G. Siegler suggested breaking up the presentation of tweets into two sections — the classic, unfiltered feed and a curated one. This new feed he calls “Pulse”:

The first tab on Twitter, the one currently labeled ‘Home’ should be replaced by a tab made up of the ‘While You Were Away’ / ‘Highlights’ content. But on steroids. Thousands of tweets. The “best of” Twitter.
Mix Moments into here. And live video. And, gasp, even ads. You’re providing me a service. I’m okay seeing an ad or two here. And it would be targeted, not trending nonsense!
I often think about not using Twitter as much as I do simply so I can get the ‘While You Were Away’ summary at the top of my feed — or even better, a ‘Highlights’ notification when I’ve been away for a long while. The delight of these features is matched only by the ridiculousness of how buried they are. This should be its own tab. Let’s call it ‘Pulse’ or something. It really is the pulse of the planet, especially in the era of Trump.

I love this idea. There is an overwhelming supply of incredible content on Twitter, and it’s far too easy to miss even with a thoroughly developed network, let alone for those who just follow a few friends and celebrities. In fact, the best value in it could be surfacing content from outside a persons network that they might find interesting, or that is part of breaking news.

However, I think the Timeline or “Live” component would remain the core of Twitter. Pulse might take back some of the “time in between” (what Ben Thompson refers to as the “available time around intent”) from Facebook, Instagram, and so forth. But the battle for that attention market is effectively over. The key to Twitter’s future is live.

About two weeks ago, Ben Thompson offered another feature proposal for Twitter:

Imagine a Twitter app that, instead of a generic Moment that is little more than Twitter’s version of a thousand re-blogs, let you replay your Twitter stream from any particular moment in time. Miss the Oscars gaffe? Not only can you watch the video, you can read the reactions as they happen, from the people you actually care enough to follow. Or maybe see the reactions through someone else’s eyes: choose any other user on Twitter, and see what they saw as the gaffe happened.
What is so powerful about this seemingly simple feature is that it would commoditize “live” in a way that is only possibly digitally, and that would uniquely benefit the company: now the experience of “live” (except for the shock value) would be available at any time, from any perspective, and only on Twitter.

I like this idea too, but it isn’t really an evolution of the timeline or an advancement of Twitter’s value as a second screen for live events. Furthermore, there is one crucial piece of the puzzle that Twitter would need to solve in order to make such a feature tenable.

There needs to be a way to organize tweets in the timeline by topic or event. These could be broad, like politics or sports, or more specific, like the Oscars. The key is that this needs to be done in real-time.

Such a feature would not only enable one to relive an event accompanied by the relevant conversation, but also to more easily engage with those in your network discussing the event in real-time. As popular of an event as the Oscars may be, most people still had a lot of other things being discussed in their feed while the event was going on. This makes engagement a lot more difficult.

Segmentation of the feed would inevitably be imperfect, but would still be immensely valuable for reducing irrelevant noise. It could piece together a variety of signals to determine what a person is tweeting about. This could include hashtags and key words in tweets, the topics of other tweets the person is favoriting and retweeting, past tweets, info in their bio, and other identifying information accumulated over time. There could be a preselected list of topics to filter the timeline down, or the option to search based on key words.

One thing this filtering system should not do is omit or prioritize tweets based on signals that indicate specific biases. For example, filtering your timeline down to people talking about politics would include all the relevant tweets by all the people you follow who are talking about politics. This way the feed would be more digestible and relevant, but not entrench filter bubbles anymore than people already do by selecting who to follow.

By breaking the timeline down this way, Twitter could in some sense make itself a live-newspaper. You could have sections for sports, politics, business, tech, entertainment, and so on. Then something like the Pulse could be your front page. Present the highlights, then give people the tools to dive deeper.

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