For a huge number of us checking the news means checking our feeds rather than reading the paper (physical or digital) or switching on the TV. According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2015 36% of people in the UK are using social media regularly as a source of news, an increase of 13 percentage points since last year alone. Twitter in particular is seen by many as the first stop to see the latest news as it unfolds. This is a role that the company seems poised to cement with their new feature, ‘Project Lightening’, which they revealed in an exclusive interview with Buzzfeed.
Project Lightening will introduce a new button on the home row which will take users to curated coverage of live events. These could be planned such as Coachella or the Oscars or reacting to events that are currently unfolding such as the Rachel Dolezal story. It will then be possible to explore and even follow these stories so that they appear in your news-feed without having to do the work of identifying the key protagonists and influencers.
The interface will be a radical departure from Twitter’s classic text-based, scrolling feed. Instead it will be highly visual with tweets, images and videos taking up the whole screen and being viewed one at a time by swiping. A UX that bears more than a passing resemblance to Snapchat’s Discover.
This reflects the ongoing trend at Twitter of becoming more visual. In particular going big on video with Vine, native video uploading and the acquisition of Periscope (a platform which deserves an article by itself to explore its ramifications for live news).
Crucially it answers the criticism that has been leveled at Twitter by many, most recently in Twitter investor Chris Sacca’s now infamous blog post where he bluntly comments “What’s not going well at Twitter?… Almost one billion users have tried Twitter and not stuck around.” While many love Twitter there is a huge swathe of people who find it “scary”, “lonely” and “hard to use”.
What would this mean for brands on Twitter? The obvious benefit is that, if successful, it will fulfill the desires of Wall Street investors and deliver hundreds of thousands of new users who have previously been unable to get to grips with the platform. This will mean many more potential eyeballs for any content posted or adverts.
Less clear is what impact this could have on real-time, reactive posting. Engaging in trending stories and news events in a relevant and timely way has become a part of the content mix for many brands; offering a way to reach new audiences who are following the stories and show themselves as having their finger on the pulse of current events. It seems probable that the reach for this kind of post will be much smaller as the number of people scrolling watching the stories unfold naturally around a hashtag decreases to be substituted by a curated view on events.