For a Glimpse at Twitter’s Future, Check Out This App

The Hash web app
Screenshot: Variety

Twitter is working on a curated news experience that aims to appeal to casual and unregistered users, according to a Buzzfeed report that quotes Twitter executives on the matter. The company’s Project Lightning looks to present major news events with big images and videos that are based curated tweets, with the option to share those collections of tweets on the web and through other apps.

Much of Project Lightning is still in development or under wraps; Buzzfeed had to produce its own illustrations to show how this experience could look like on a mobile phone. Twitter plans to officially launch the feature later this year. But there is already an app out there today that does much of what Project Lightning aims to do — and ironically, it has been built by a former Twitter employee.

Hash is an iOS and Web app that curates Twitter’s trending topics, visualizes them with bold images and lets users explore some of the most-tweeted stories from major news sources. There’s also a small blurb from Wikipedia to explain what a topic is all about, and users have the option to share any story via Twitter, Facebook or email.

To be fair, Twitter’s Project Lightning plans seem to go quite a bit further than hash does today, including autoplay videos and an image-heavy interface that can be navigated by swiping alone. The company also wants to use a team of human editors to curate stories, whereas Hash largely relies on automated curation.

The Hash app was developed last year by Stephen Phillips, who was previously in charge of Twitter’s short-lived music app. Phillips built Hash after leaving the company, in part to make Twitter more accessible to average consumers. “I am a huge Twitter fanboy and power user. But my family and friends struggle to understand how to use it,” he said in an interview late last year.

That’s the same problem Twitter also aims to solve with Project Lightning. The company is under pressure from Wall Street after missing its own guidance for its Q1 earnings report. Twitter, which now has 302 million monthly active users, has also been struggling to compete with Facebook and its 1.3 billion monthly active users.

Well-known Twitter investor Chris Sacca pinned a long critique of the company earlier this month, arguing that Twitter is too “scary” and confusing for new users. A week later, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo stepped down, and the company announced that Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is going to become interim CEO starting July 1.

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