If you had to use one word to describe Twitter’s strategy over the last year, that word would be experimentation. Later this year, the mobile app is planning its boldest change to date: a new way to display tweets from big events as fullscreen collections of photos and videos.
According to BuzzFeed, Twitter’s super-secret Project Lightning will bring a new button on the Twitter app home screen that will take you to curated feed of events—like Coachella or a riot breaking out in Russia—featuring fast-loading photos and auto-playing videos. You’ll be able to follow event collections to get updates on your Twitter feed without having to follow every Twitter user whose content is featured in the collection. That’s helpful so your feed won’t be cluttered with tweets after the big event ends.
Each tweet, photo, or video featured in a Project Lightning collection will be selected by an editor on Twitter’s media team and will appear fullscreen on your smartphone. Project Lightning will also include Vines and Periscope streams in these collections, and it all will be visible even to non-Twitter users or when you’re not logged in to the platform. The new Twitter format will debut in the next few months.
“It’s a brand-new way to look at tweets,” Twitter’s VP of product Kevin Weil told BuzzFeed. “This is a bold change, not evolutionary.”
Over the last year, the Twitter experience has slowly been evolving with a bunch of small product upgrades and features, from curtailing harassment to experimenting with messaging. Twitter loudly declared it had entered a new era of experimentation, and Project Lightning seems to be its most drastic upgrade in years. But is it really going to blow your mind? If you’re already on Snapchat, most likely not.
At its core, Project Lightning is very similar to Our Stories, the Snapchat feature that curates an event-based stream out of snaps (video clips) from users who were at the event. In the year since it launched, Our Stories has featured photos and videos from music festivals, fashion weeks, sporting events, and gaming conventions. Each of these collections is reportedly generating about 25 million views.
Outgoing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was in charge of getting Project Lightning off the ground. Even though Costolo resigned last week, interim CEO and Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey told BuzzFeed that the company was still fully committed to Costolo’s baby. While Project Lightning is in the clear, we don’t know how Costolo’s departure and Dorsey’s return will affect the overall fate of the company. Twitter’s success has long been associated with event coverage and breaking news, so the fact that this feature has taken this long to come to fruition is not very reasurring.
Why this matters: “Immersive multimedia.” “Innovative storytelling.” The visual web is coming to mobile, and social apps are all trying to create “experiences” that will make users fawn over pretty pictures and lure advertisers who love getting that type of eye-popping treatment.
The thing that could set Twitter’s feature apart from the Snapchat’s version (and even Facebook’s standalone Paper app) is that Project Lightning’s event-based collections will be embeddable across the web, and will be updated automatically if more photos and videos are added to the collection. Project Lightning hopes to break Twitter content out of its walled garden and in front of more eyeballs—even to people who’ve never created a Twitter account or are intimidated to jump into the constant frenzy happening on the platform every second.
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Oscar writes about iOS, mobile culture and digital music. He also hosts 'The iPhone Show' from Macworld's San Francisco HQ.