Twitter Launches Moments, the Curated News Experience Also Known as Project Lightning

Twitter Moments Screenshot
Courtesy of Twitter

Twitter made a big push towards simplification Tuesday with the launch of Moments, a new curated news experience that is initially only available to U.S. web and mobile users. Moments was previously known as Project Lightning, and has been touted by company executives as a major step to get new users attached to the service.

Twitter has long had a problem with explaining itself to new users. “It takes a lot of work to curate the perfect timeline,” admitted Andrew Fitzgerald, who heads the Moments curation team at Twitter, during an interview this week.

Not every user has the time and energy to find the right people to follow, and then browse through a timeline with hundreds or possibly thousands of updates a day. That’s why Moments essentially provides an alternative entry point into Twitter, by curating collections of tweets around a news topic or event.

Users can browse these Moments via a special tab within the Twitter app for iOS and Android, or directly on the Twitter website. Selected tweets often include photos or videos, and aim to quickly provide some context around a news event. On Monday, some of the Moments curated by Twitter’s team included some titled “Deadly South Carolina floods,” “Miami Dolphins fire coach” and “Homeland season 5 premiere.”

Twitter Moments, as displayed on Twitter's website.

Twitter Moments, as displayed on Twitter’s website.

Fitzgerald’s team is using Twitter’s algorithms to figure out which stories are getting a lot of play on the service, and then adds human curation to find the best tweets for each story. Some of that also involves going back, and maybe adding a tweet from a day or two ago that is key to a story, but would already have been buried in Twitter’s timeline view. “We are trying to pull away from the temporality of Twitter,” he said. The goal is to still stay newsworthy, but not just focus on the very latest updates.

There are news events that are unfolding in real time, which is why Twitter is allowing users to subscribe to some Moments, including live tweets from awards shows. Once a user subscribes to a Moment, those curated tweets will then also show up in his or her timeline.

Of course, this brings up an interesting question: If the goal of Moments is to get new users excited about Twitter, then how are these new users going to discover them, especially since they’re not likely to use Twitter’s apps? Twitter’s answer to that question lies in partnerships with media organizations like Buzzfeed, Entertainment Weekly, MLB, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Each of these partners can curate their own Moments and then embed them within their apps and sites, and Twitter may highlight some of those partner-curated Moments within its apps as well. Initially, the ability to create Moments is only being made available to a small group of partners, but Fitzgerald said that other media brands may soon have a chance as well: “It is our goal to open this very widely.”

Publishers could be even more enticed to become curators for Twitter if there was also a way for them to make money with the platform, but that doesn’t exist just yet. “We are still working on the revenue piece for Moments,” said Fitzgerald, declining to further comment on how the company may make money with this in the future.

But it’s fairly obvious that Moments could be an interesting way for the company to generate revenue, be it through the inclusion of sponsored tweets or via native advertising. Now Twitter needs to only make those curated Moments good enough to actually gather some eyeballs, and hopefully convert some of them into returning users.

Twitter has been under pressure to return to growth after the number of monthly active users essentially flat-lined earlier this year. The company’s struggles led to the resignation of former CEO Dick Costolo, and the eventual appointment of Jack Dorsey as Twitter’s new CEO this week.