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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Twitter’s having its moment – and not all good

October 15, 2015 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

For the umpteenth time, Twitter is trying to attract and keep new users in an effort to stay up with Facebook and please Wall Street with forever growth. (For some reason 316 million users isn’t enough, while also beating top and bottom line earnings expectations.)

The company has made a series of up-and-down announcements, from the new publisher-friendly Moments tab, to naming Jack Dorsey CEO to right the ship, to coming across-the-board layoffs. Is this a course correction, or just noise and fury signifying nothing? There’s much that will appeal to publishers and marketers in Moments, but it will need vast improvement for users to stay on board.

Moments is Twitter’s first major move into human-powered editorial. It includes a new tab – with the lightning bolt icon (it was previously known as Project Lightning), including editor-generated ”stories” told through tweets, images and videos posted by users. The idea is to help newbies see what’s breaking now on Twitter via trusted sources. But so far there’s a heavy influence of sports, TV shows and other fare that should have marketers salivating.

Moneymaking Moments
The launch coincided with a backlash from some users, wondering why customized or personalized Moments weren’t available. But this apparently stemmed from a misunderstanding of the product: Moments is geared toward the casual Twitter user, not the people able to find their moments on Twitter already.

Certainly, Moments makes Twitter much easier to use, since it solves the problem of figuring out who to follow for a given topic or story and provides context quickly. Although Twitter hasn’t specified how it will make money off the new feature, it’s assumed sponsored Moments could be a form of native advertising to help boost profits.

Following the likes of Snapchat’s Discover, Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple’s News app, Twitter’s Moments is yet another example of the trend toward new walled gardens. Given that users are spending more time online and on these platforms, distributing news and information to them directly through these channels is a no brainer. It’s also a strategic move for publishers who have long been seeing eyeballs migrate away from their home pages and onto these platforms.

Whos In So Far
Like the other examples of distributed content, a group of publishers (which is expected to grow over time) will have the chance to contribute to Moments, including Bleacher Report, BuzzFeed, Entertainment Weekly, Fox News, Getty Images, Mashable, MLB, NASA, New York Times, Vogue and the Washington Post. This gives Twitter name-brand content with publishers curating their own Moments. The Washington Post, for one, has been quick to back up the project.

“We’ve all been hacking around this for a long time,” Cory Haik, executive director of emerging news products at the Washington Post, told Poynter. “There’s Storify, there’s embedding tweets within a blog post — there’s all kinds of tools that try to make it easy. But this does (all of) that, and it also makes it highly visual and easy to get through.”

Publisher vs. Publisher
But Moments also pits publisher against publisher, vying to join the platform and then fight for more attention. It brings us back to questions of just how much control Twitter — not to mention other social platforms — ought to have. Other unanswered questions on editorial power, including what gets placed in the “Today” tab of Moments and how the feature will become part of a natural user experience, have also surfaced.

Vivian Schiller, former head of news for Twitter and now an advisor for Vocativ, raised some of these issues in an interview with Mashable: “What will their editorial standards be? How can they be both partner and competitor to news organizations? How will they compete with the dozens of other successful news aggregators, many of whom use Twitter as a source?” she said. “And will this really drive a spike in active users?”

And, not surprisingly, she acknowledged the smart revenue play at hand: “In any case it’s a boon to advertisers who can now sponsor timelines.” A boon for advertisers and Twitter, but for publishers? That remains to be seen.

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