Pando

Twitter's Highlights will sift through the service's chaotic stream so you (and other companies) don't have to

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 23, 2015

From The News Desk

Twitter has introduced a new feature called Highlights that makes it easier for Android users to view tweets, links, and other ephemera they might care about.

Highlights attempts to gather these interesting miscellanies by analyzing who a Twitter user follows, where they're located, and what's currently trending on the site. It does this "up to twice a day" -- not so often that people decide to turn off the feature, but often enough that users aren't able to forget about the service.

Highlights remedies one of Twitter's core problems, which is that people simply aren't checking it often enough. As Pando's David Holmes explained after the company redesigned its homepage in an effort to attract new users:

What’s perhaps more troubling, however, is that only 36 percent of those Twitter users visit the site daily, compared to Facebook which is visited daily by 70 percent of its users. What’s worse, that number went down a full ten points from 46 percent between 2013 and 2014. Statistics like these run counter to the narrative pushed by many of the platform’s defenders — and Twitter itself — that while it has far fewer users than Facebook these users experience Twitter on a deeper, more engaged level.
It's hard not to engage with a company's products when your phone buzzes with a notification reminding you to check out the latest tweets once or twice a day. Twitter probably hopes that once you're done with your Highlights you'll check the main service, too, since you've already spent a few moments inside its app.

Highlights also solves another problem: Some of the best things on Twitter are discovered through applications and services outside of Twitter's control.

Flipboard takes the best stories and makes them available in a magazine-like interface. Nuzzel grabs the best links and pulls them out from the dreck of the service's real-time newsfeed. Storify allows writers to take the best tweets, make them easier to read as a single story, and embed them elsewhere.

Twitter has done its best to reduce the need for those services, one by one. The company went after Storify first with the new blue-line feature that, despite its problems, does make it easier to follow conversations on Twitter. Now the company is trying to make Flipboard and Nuzzel less useful by sifting through its service all on its own.

I wouldn't underestimate this shift. News breaks on Twitter. Conversations on the service inspire #content posted somewhere else. Many of the most notable things on the web are either shared to Twitter first, or eventually make their way to the service, whether it's via links, "screenshorts," or other practices.

The problem was that all this stuff was hard to find. A person's Twitter feed is comprised of the most interesting aspects of the web, but it's as if the company first scattered them like scraps of confetti, blew the pieces out into a crowded room, and waited for someone else to pick them up. Twitter previously let others do that cleaning; now it will clean things up itself.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]