Twitter is excitedly working on a new feature that could possibly save its own skin from being acquired by a bigger company.
The new feature, which doesn't have a timeline for release just yet, will be accessed by a new button at the center of the home row in Twitter's mobile app. When users click on that button, they will be taken to a new screen displaying various events happening in real-time that they would like to follow.
Called Project Lightning internally, this upcoming feature was first reported by BuzzFeed, who spoke with Twitter's global media operations chief Katie Jacobs Stanton. Essentially, the feature will allow users follow events as they play out in real-time, instead of trying to figure out people to follow to get the best experience of the event.
Right now, Twitter offers a rich plethora of content surrounding events. However, it can often be a challenge for users to get all the best conversations about the events they want to follow. If, for example, a user wants to follow the Charleston shootings, he can scroll through his chronological timeline to see what's being said by the people he's following, interspersed with other tweets about other events, creating a disjointed experience of that event.
He can also use related hashtags, if he remembers what those hashtags are. And even then, the results for hashtags are often populated mostly with news stories and not the most interesting or relevant tweets about the event.
"The challenge we've had over the years is, although we have the world's greatest content, it's like having a television without a channel guide or even a remote control," says Stanton. "There's no way to really find it or contextualize that content. So [Project Lightning] is this beautiful vessel for us to surface great content and make it more delightful."
Each event is portrayed as a collection of videos, images, tweets and even Vines and Periscopes. Each piece of content in the collection takes up the entire screen, beginning with the earliest post about that event, and users will simply have to swipe to the left to move on to the next post until the end of the collection, where they will be able to see all the real-time tweets taking place. Once the event is done, the collection also closes.
Stanton will be heading a team of curators, all of whom have background in journalism, to decide which real-time tweets to include in each event, with the help of algorithms to choose which events are chosen. She says Twitter is currently working on a set of guidelines to ensure "fairness and integrity" in picking out what tweets to include.
With Project Lightning, Twitter is reaching out to people who do not have a Twitter account. People can see these events even when they're not logged in by accessing them through Twitter's site or other sites that embed the Twitter event. It is one possible way Twitter hopes to entice more users to sign up once they see how valuable the new feature is.
"There's a beautiful connection to our strategy of reaching users on every platform," says Kevin Weil, product manager at Twitter. "It's not just logged-in Twitter, it's logged-out, and it's syndicated on other websites and mobile apps. This reaches all of them."
Project Lightning seems to be in response to the criticism Twitter has been receiving in recent months from investors who doubt the micro-blogging network's ability to grow its user base. However, as outgoing CEO Dick Costolo says, the feature has been in the works "for a long, long time."
"I have no doubt that when it launches, people will create a narrative that it was the result of something critical," Costolo says. "People think I read something and then two months later we launched something - but that's not the way this works. This has been in the works for months and months."
Photo: Andrew Mager | Flickr