Update: 10/13/2016: Twitter is currently testing an Explore Tab to replace the Moments Tab, suggesting it may not be achieving their desired usage levels. This would appear to vindicate what I wrote below about the feature slightly more than a year ago.
Earlier this week, Twitter unveiled their latest new product feature: Moments.
Billed as “the best of Twitter in an Instant”, the feature aggregates some of the best Tweets on various topics and trends and packages them in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The resemblance to a well-crafted news app will escape no one, with tab names like Today, News, Sports, Entertainment, etc.. The power of Twitter’s short, looping video previews is really brought home by their tasteful use as cover images for the sections, and stunning videos and photos are given prominent display throughout.
Were this an app baked-up by some fresh-faced startup, I’d say they were on track to future success with some pretty amazing work. Were this a separate app Twitter spun-off, I’d say they’d one-upped Facebook by succeeding with Moments where Facebook Paper failed: to create a compelling ‘social reader’ experience, and I’d wish it well in the app store rankings (which can be glorious or unforgivable).
Unfortunately, as a mere feature of Twitter, I don’t believe this moves the needle in the direction they want it to. Moments is app-worthy, but as just a feature it confuses the fundamental nature of what Twitter is supposed to be even farther than it already has been.
With Moments, Twitter is now two beasts in one cage: 1) A Social Network, 2) A News ReaderWith Moments, Twitter is now two beasts in one cage: 1) A Social Network, 2) A News ReaderClick To Tweet
Twitter has always been media-friendly, the result of running a network almost accidentally-designed to generate hundreds of millions of quick, public, taggable, and searchable user statements daily, on an almost endless variety of topics, which make perfect fodder to use as quotes, as statistics, as a means of measuring audience engagement with a media campaign in real time, etc…
It must be frustrating then, at times, for Twitter’s executives to watch media outlets repackage Tweets as monetizable content, without any of that money flowing back to Twitter, and without it resulting in major user growth. The modern media runs on Twitter to an almost unimaginable degree.The modern media runs on Twitter to an almost unimaginable degree.Click To Tweet
Moments is Twitter’s homegrown vision, it seems, of how best to repackage its own User Generated Content into a viable new media experience. For that, their development team should be lauded.
However, this makes Twitter a dichotomous experience: within the same website or app, we have both the raw social ‘feed’, and its consumption-friendly re-packaging. The former is supposed to lure you into Tweeting and Engaging, but the latter is like Content Candy, an almost gluttonously passive absorption of a rarified form of the Twitter Stream. Sure, there is a halfhearted social layer baked into Moments, but it seems better designed to get you to swipe through pretty pictures and video clips than to get you sharing your own ‘Thoughts on the Moment’.
This is the same old song-and-dance in the same old package tied up with a pretty new pink bow: Twitter’s playing media darling, only now they’re directly in the game. Again, nothing is wrong with them trying to present their own vision of a ‘Twitter Media Experience’, but the value of this experience above and beyond what any good news aggregator can do, is what makes up the supposedly true ‘Twitter Experience’: the social network.
The reason why Twitter’s stock value is so low and they’ve had such upheaval at the executive levels of their corporation of late is the struggle to increase the growth of their user base, which has essentially flattened, and also to increase the engagement of their already-active users.
The Moments tab is nice once you’re on it, but the ‘home’ of Twitter is and remains the Stream, and it’s there where Twitter growth and Twitter engagement lives or dies, not in some shoehorned-in aggregator. If anything, Moments echoes Twitter’s basic failure: to hook new users in and get them engaging.Moments echoes Twitter's basic failure: to hook new users in and get them engaging.Click To Tweet
It isn’t simply that they can’t do this as well as Facebook can, that comparison would be somewhat unfair; it’s that they can’t seem to generate the kind of real user engagement that puts the ‘social’ in social network, the kind that generates a sort of ‘Meta Community’ of overlapping online communities, cliques, and individuals using the network like an online home.
A few niche user types have found such a ‘home’ on Twitter, to be sure, but apart from the ever-reliable Journalist and Public Figure Niche, very few Twitter communities have ‘held strong’ against the rise of new networks and sharing tools like Instagram, Google+, and WhatsApp. What remains of Twitter these days is mostly a one-way short message broadcasting platform and a brilliant tool for data collection. The raw feed itself, unfortunately, remains too difficult for the average user to curate.
If Moments was truly supposed to solve this fundamental problem in some way, then it shouldn’t be buried away in a tab: it should be front-and-center of the user experience. Otherwise, all they’ve done is create an unholy marriage of the Stream to its idealized reflection. Moments is like the wet dream a Twitter Executive has every night about how people will actually use and experience Twitter, right before their reoccurring nightmare that the last woman on Twitter has quit and the only users left are angsty teenage boys with sockpuppet accounts.
Meanwhile, on Planet ACTUAL TWITTER, i.e. the main Twitter Stream, the place from which these Curated Experiences are drawn, nothing has really changed because of this. The average first-time or giving-it-another-look Twitter user will still not find the kind of delightful and engaging ‘moments’ they’re looking for in their social stream. The fundamental problem remains unsolved.
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Luckily, I believe Moments may also point the way to a truly winning idea for Twitter, one that could expand their reach to new audiences and help to create some of that authentic sense of community that makes a network of millions of users truly social and not just an app with a lot of members: build a constellation of apps, and refocus away from the main stream.
Instead of focusing so much on the ‘Big Blue App’, and trying to shove all the great ‘Moments’ in there, Twitter should recognize both that their treasure trove of User Generated Content is enough for a whole family of apps each offering different experiences, and that the way to get even more users more engaged is to empower them to self-select their own types of online communities and engage with each other in optimized fashions around each type of experience.
Not only could Moments itself be an entire ‘Twitter News Experience’ app in itself, but there could be even more specific types of ‘Twitter Experience Apps’: a Twitter for Sports fans, a Twitter for Celebrity hounds, a Twitter for Photo Lovers, a Twitter for Food, etc… Each would play to its strengths: Twitter Sports would notify you and help you ‘join the discussion’ about your favorite Teams, Games, and Rivalries; Twitter for Food would put sharing Food Porn center stage and encourage you to create and share pictures and recipes; etc…
Twitter should break up with itself: the raw ‘Stream’ itself should mostly take a background to tailored ‘experiences’ which not only draw from the raw data of Twitter, but encourage users to add to it by focusing each app on engaging particular types of users, so that each app can develop its own best ways of encouraging users to interact.Twitter should break up with itself.Click To Tweet
Third-party Twitter developers have been doing similar things for years as far as they’re allowed to do so, building tools for new ‘experiences’ like Twitter Chats which would otherwise be impossible. Twitter also owns Tweetdeck, originally a 3rd party tool and the ultimate Twitter Power Tool for building your own types of experiences around hashtags, lists, and other number of factors, so there is precedent here.
In fact, Twitter should engage the very 3rd Party Developer community they’ve outraged so many times by changing or restricting access to their API to compete with each other to build this new family of ‘Twitter Experience Apps’, and both reward the winners by working with them to develop these into official apps, and use the process to develop a larger strategy for utilizing their ‘firehose’ as a ‘Tailored Experience Building Resource’. The same media they’ve always counted on can help them promote these new experiences, and develop them in new directions, for new types of audiences and users.