While the general public may have been skeptical about the role that Twitter (and other social media) would play in news gathering and reporting back around 2008-2009, some of us saw the writing on the wall very clearly. I remember telling a friend at the time that Twitter would replace most other news outlets eventually, and him promptly laughing at me.
Despite the fact that my comment has been shown over and over to be the progression we are in fact moving towards, I still relish the opportunity to throw an additional jab whenever possible. Today I am throwing not only a jab at my old friend, but a full-fledged (but friendly, of course) right hook. Why? Because Twitter is taking over the news media and is on the verge of a giant leap forward.
News in the Aggregate
I have been wrong before about such predictions. For instance, I was certain that Flipboard or another of the beautifully arranged magazine-style news aggregators would take off as a personal news delivery system. I was wrong. According to Reuters in their Digital News Report 2015, news aggregators and newsreader apps today have an almost negligible impact on digital news consumption everywhere except Japan (where they reach 27%).
Relatively speaking (in relation to the number of people who get news digitally today versus a decade ago), this is less of an impact than the now historic Google Reader. Maybe the Mountain View folks did know what they were doing when they axed it, after all. Social media as an outlet for news, however, has seen good growth in the last two years. Facebook alone grew 42% in shares of news content from Jan. 2014 to Jan. 2015.
The two fundamental shifts that Reuters noticed in their data are the increase in accessing news through mobile devices and social media as the delivery vehicles of that content. In light of a recent announcement by outgoing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, this atmosphere sets the stage for Twitter's possible domination of news consumption in the coming years.
Highlights and Project Lightening
The first change in that direction was recently rolled out with Twitter's new Highlights feature. Highlights will deliver "a simple summary of the best Tweets for you, delivered via rich push notification." If users opt-in, they will receive a Highlights summary up to twice per day pushed to them in rich format, which they can swipe through on their screens. This is designed to help new or less experienced users to find interesting things in Twitter, which can be a confusing task for the uninitiated.
Building on the idea of attracting new eyeballs and users to Twitter, and on the idea of social media as a news outlet, Twitter is implementing Project Lightening later this year. The concept has been tossed around at meetings since January, and everyone is onboard. Project lightening is a "brand new way to look at tweets", according to Twitter product manager Kevin Weil.
The mobile Twitter app will have a button that will bring a visually-based aggregation of any major event front and center, with tweets, pictures and videos that tell the story that's happening as it is tweeted. The pictures and videos will supposedly load instantly. This could be breaking news, current events, sports, or anything that a lot of people are tweeting about at the time. Essentially it will be an aggregated, swipeable newscast, bringing facts and commentary from many sources into a single place for your consumption.
This by itself is brilliant, but the best part (especially for Twitter)? These curated, real-time updating events can be viewed anywhere. On the mobile app, on the website, or on any website, as they can be embedded anywhere. You don't even have to have a Twitter account to see them, and you don't have to be following any of the contributors. There won't be any distractions either, since the collections don't appear in your timeline but rather as a full-screen, separate entity.
Twitter is already the home base for journalists, and with citizen-reporting growing it's easy to see how this new angle could become the go-to source for news and events. Will Twitter eventually replace the news media as we know it? Time will tell, but so far my prediction of this evolution has been riding smoothly down the tracks toward the future.