Summary:

Twitter describes itself as an information network rather than a media entity, but it is making some interesting moves into the content business, including hiring a sports producer to curate content and sending out a weekly email of highlighted content. How far will it go?

Birdhouses
photo: See-ming Lee

We’ve made the argument before that Twitter is effectively a media entity, distributing news and entertainment and other content to millions of readers in real time — although unlike traditional media entities, Twitter does this with anyone’s content rather than content it creates in-house. So far, the company has shied away describing itself as a media company, or exercising much editorial control over what it distributes, but there are some tantalizing signs that it may be moving in that direction. Could Twitter become a media player in its own right?

One element of Twitter’s potential mission appeared on Monday with the announcement of a weekly curated email that is designed to show users content they might be interested in from elsewhere in their social graph. The email is clearly an extension of the move towards curation that Twitter made when it acquired Summify earlier this year — and it both looks and sounds an awful lot like the missives that Summify sent out with similar highlighted content, a feature the company said was one of its most popular (News.me offers a similar type of daily newsletter).

Is Twitter hiring editors and producers to curate?

The second sign of what Twitter might have in mind came last week, when a job posting started making the rounds of journalism mailing lists and Twitter streams: namely, an opening for a “sports producer” who could help curate interesting news-related content around sports events. A Twitter spokeswoman suggested that the job was just another part of the media-evangelism task force that works with the company’s various potential media partners to highlight best practices — in other words, nothing special.

Still, it’s interesting to think about what might come next: Is Twitter planning to hire other types of editors in different fields? Does it want to try and create a BuzzFeed-type of offering, where it highlights interesting content being shared by users? The company isn’t saying, but it wouldn’t be a crazy idea — as we’ve discussed before, people desperately need better filters and curation to sift through the massive streams of information that are flowing past us all day every day, and Twitter is in a perfect position to provide them. But does it want to do that, or is it happy to leave that to others?

If it really wanted to, Twitter could not only use its own algorithms to generate aggregated content in interesting ways, it could start to accumulate a suite of tools that allow users and even journalists to do the same — whether it’s something like Storify or Storyful (which has a paid-for Pro version that helps media companies verify and fact-check the content they are collecting) or another curation/discovery service like Prismatic or Percolate, or even a consumption and recommendation app like Flipboard.

Being a platform is good — but Twitter may want more

At the moment, Twitter seems to be trying to walk a tightrope of sorts between being a media entity and being a platform that is used by other media players. Being a platform or a tool is good, because it means that the company can form all kinds of valuable partnerships with traditional media entities such as broadcasters and TV networks and movie studios — the kind that Chloe Sladden, head of Twitter’s media group, has gotten a lot of attention for. But platforms don’t always generate large amounts of revenue.

Part of the sales job for the media deals it strikes with broadcasters is that Twitter makes a great “second screen” experience for things like the Olympics, etc. So media conglomerates can incorporate Twitter into shows like The X Factor, and it increases the engagement between the audience and the content, and everybody wins. If Twitter were to start looking and acting too much like a media company itself — producing content or curating it in such a way that it added a lot of value — some media partners might theoretically see it as competition rather than a platform partner.

In a sense, this is the same kind of tightrope that YouTube has had to negotiate: it used to be just a carrier of content, and most of it was user-generated and of little interest to major media players — the only time they cared about YouTube was when it infringed on their copyright and they could launch a lawsuit. But then the network started creating its own channels and content, at the same time as it was trying to sell the networks and studios on its value as a place for long-form video.

Obviously, Twitter isn’t likely to suddenly start producing movies or books based on tweets, so the competitive aspect at least for TV networks is minimal (which could be why that was the first place Twitter started looking for media partnerships). But when it comes to the kind of content that newspapers and magazines are interested in, Twitter looks more like a potential competitor — especially if it gets really good at either aggregating/curating information in real time and/or recommending it.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user See-ming Lee

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