Industry experts are still bemoaning Twitter’s glaring lack of user growth. As of September 2015, the social platform had reportedly gained 4 million users over its previous quarter, but none of those were in the United States – where growth had stagnated at 66 million monthly active users. This year, Twitter reported its first quarter with no user growth.
In addition to the user growth plateau, investors are also concerned about the less-than-expected first quarter revenue for 2016.
In response to these issues, Twitter is being fairly aggressive with new strategies in an effort to jumpstart some growth. One of the strategies from 2015 was the introduction of Twitter Moments as a bold new function.
With Moments, and with the new timeline function announced recently, we can see that Twitter is trying to expand beyond its role as a conduit for users to experience events solely in real time. Whether it’s a major sporting event, political debate, or even a tragedy, Twitter has long been the first place most people look to when something noteworthy is happening in the world.
For Twitter, it’s important not only to hang onto that first-place-to-look status, but also to create a meaningful, engaging experience once users get there. Otherwise, users will simply see Twitter as a place for a cursory check-in before moving on to a more deeply engaging medium. After all, it’s increasingly clear that Twitter’s game plan for the past decade has reached its ceiling in terms of growth potential. There are only so many people who value unengaging immediacy.
Delivering a More Engaging Scoop
So, how did they try to fix that? How do you take your first responder status and make it a full-service stop for users to get the scoop on what’s happening in the world? One of Dorsey and Co.’s first steps toward that aim was to introduce Twitter Moments, which launched in October 2015.
While it was being developed, Moments was christened with the working title, “Project Lightning.” The choice to go with “Moments” instead is interesting because, while both titles connote a sense of immediacy, “Moments” has a bit more lasting power. Moments tend to be iconic, reverberating throughout culture for some time after occurring – lightning bolts burst onto the scene and are gone before their full effect is even known.
But despite the name’s seeming durability, as it stands now, what we’ve seen from Moments has not been very impressive.
But, first, let’s look at Twitter’s original search function
When any major event or news story is unfolding, people want an efficient, accurate, and up-to-date account of what’s known so far. By simply typing keywords into Twitter’s search function, though, the results leave much to be desired, especially in terms of efficiency. For example, let’s take a look at what the search bar method offered for one of the biggest political stories of the past few months: former presidential candidate Chris Christie dropped out of the race in early February and is now supporting the controversial GOP candidate Donald Trump.
Politics are one of the most important topics of discussion on Twitter, and should be a major part of any strategy to attract new users. After using the search keyword “Chris Christie,” we are given the results shown below:
In terms of delivering the “nutshell” version of the story – these results actually do a decent job. We’re given one of the more concise headlines in the top section under “Top news” followed by sections of relevant photos and accounts as you scroll down. We’re one click away from diving into more of either of those types of results via the “View all” on the right-hand side of the column.
But, ultimately, these are niche benefits at best. Photos, standalone articles, and even individual social media accounts can all be attained with more efficiency with a simple Google search.
Twitter Moments to the Rescue, Maybe
Twitter knows that the search function isn’t their best bet, and that’s why they needed Moments to stand out as an attractive, user-boosting tool. In order to separate itself as valuable amidst other platforms (and search engines, in contexts like the one featured above), Moments has to highlight and harness Twitter’s best asset: its facilitation of real-time conversations. Let’s examine whether Moments accomplishes this:
If the title “Moments” is meant to evoke the feeling of having captured a particular ethos of an event or time period, Twitter makes sense as a platform that could pull it off. The conversations around events are what make them memorable, and the decisions made as a result of those conversations are how historical trends form.
Unfortunately, Moments didn’t do much to harness the conversation around Chris Christie. The 7-second video that appears at the top is as good as any 7-second video could be for the topic – Trump introducing Christie to the podium, and then the two men somewhat surreally shaking hands – but that isn’t really long enough to offer much. If a user is seeking out video of either man’s speech, he/she is certainly hoping to hear more than 7 seconds of it.
Moving down the page, we find a single-column stream of curated tweets about Christie’s announcement. It’s not exactly clear how much is human-curated and how much is algorithmically decided, but we do know that a bias is given to tweets from users who are closest to the primary sources of information. This is based on sound journalistic principles, but since none of these tweets have any specific order or connection to one another, the end result doesn’t give the user reading the Moment much in the way of an immersive experience.
Aside from the lack of dialogue, Twitter also has tonal inconsistencies to work on within Moments. With only a handful of tweets to devote to a particular topic, Dorsey and Co. need to decide whether they see this section of their platform as a pathway into more serious news coverage, or if it’s going to be another extension of the Twitter world’s collective comedic chops.
Twitter Moments is still in its infancy. There is still plenty of time for Twitter to shape and tweak it into something that can both appease its current users and attract new ones. And there are some hopeful signs. Jason Del Ray from ReCode wrote last year about how he has found Moments to be a more than adequate on-the-go replacement for the sports television show SportsCenter (the declining quality of SportsCenter is a topic for another time). He lauds the function’s ability to pack a lot of video highlights into a small area, all navigable through a few taps.
But even in cases like that one, Moments isn’t serving the role Twitter needs it to. Del Ray uses Moments as a quick catchall for his morning sports highlights, not as a way to get caught up on a major sports news or an event as it is occurring.
Ultimately, that’s not nearly enough for Moments to become the user-base-boosting tool that Twitter needs it to be.
Twitter’s strongest asset is its ability to facilitate meaningful conversations in real time. When at its best, it’s the kind of thing that can literally change the world. As it stands now, Moments is simply not accomplishing that. In fact, it’s unclear what, exactly, it is accomplishing, if anything at all.