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Twitter ‘Incomplete’ Test of Live Sports With Wimbledon Stream Is a Distracting Mess (Opinion)

Twitter wants to get ready for some football: It’s gearing up to carry 10 live NFL games this fall with a quietly-launched test this week of live coverage from Wimbledon.

But if Twitter’s feed from the All England Club is any indication, it has miles to go before it adds innovation to the sports-watching experience.

Never mind the fact that Twitter’s Wimbledon live feed, which debuted Wednesday and continues through the finals, isn’t carrying any actual live matches. Instead, users see the same free live stream available on Wimbledon.com, which includes interviews, talking-head commentary and updates, such as Andy Murray (above) speaking at a press conference Thursday. To get on-the-court action, U.S. users have to turn to ESPN (and Twitter helpfully provides a link), which carries the exclusive multiplatform rights to Wimbledon play.

That’s like testing a restaurant concept — but without serving any food.

But that isn’t Twitter’s biggest problem. The more glaring shortcoming is that live video coupled with a stream of unfiltered Wimbledon-related tweets simply doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts. In fact, on balance, it’s an annoying, confusing muddle of random chatter. It’s like you’re sitting in the world’s biggest sports bar, with random strangers blustering or snarking in your ear.

Twitter acknowledged that the Wimbledon test is a prototype of what’s to come with the NFL. “This livestream is an extremely early and incomplete test experience, and we’ll be making lots of improvements before we launch it in its final form,” a Twitter rep said.

Twitter’s live Wimbledon feed is here; for now, its live links cannot be embedded into third-party web pages (although Twitter has said it plans to make that possible with the NFL webcasts, which will be supplied by NBC and CBS).

How exactly Twitter will improve the experience for the football season is unclear. One issue is that to fit in the tweet-stream, Twitter’s live video window shrinks less than one-third the size of a mobile screen. On a desktop, the roughly 590-by-335-pixel video window pales in comparison to the presentation on Wimbledon.com. Yes, Twitter lets you toggle the video to view in full-screen mode — but then you’ve just eliminated any incremental value Twitter is purportedly bringing to the party.

Twitter touts itself as a conduit for real-time commentary and instant info from its millions of users. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think most sports fans don’t want to watch football, tennis or anything else while being steadily barraged by the musings of millions of strangers.

Twitter’s hypothesis seems to be that it can add a sense of community and context to a live sporting event — and make it a far more participatory event than lean-back TV. If that’s the goal, it should start by having human editors select the most interesting and insightful tweets. I’m sure those are in there somewhere in the Wimbledon test run, but they’re lost in the fire-hose blast. In addition, the ability to customize the tweet-stream might make sense.

Ultimately, Twitter is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist: People can already follow social conversations, on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere, using their phones. Bolting on a sports broadcast to a social stream, even if it’s done well, will have narrow appeal.

I suspect Twitter jumped to nab the NFL rights before it formulated how it would present the games. To convince gridiron fans that Twitter is a compelling place to catch a live game, instead of on TV, it will have to be more than just the World’s Biggest Water Cooler.

And to do that, it will have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Hundreds of tweets that have surfaced in Twitter’s live Wimbledon feed add absolutely nothing to the conversation, evidently sucked in only because they have the “#Wimbledon” hashtag. They’re off-topic, cryptic, lacking context or just uninteresting — the cumulative effect being that one is left pining for the relative coherence of a traditional TV broadcast.

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