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Twitter knows that it has a problem: a replay problem.
The social network that’s now used by about one in five Americans is at its best during a live news event. There’s no substitute for watching Twitter during a dramatic event like the Boston Marathon bombings, or following along for the commentary and Oreo jokes during something like the Super Bowl. But, as we wrote in February, once you miss it, good luck replaying Twitter the next day.
So Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said the company is testing out different ways to help you filter the best moments from live events, to highlight the best content on the platform, or to help you replay certain moments. Costolo spoke at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, and while he didn’t give specifics on what these features would look like, he said the company is actively testing them out.
“There are lots of ways we can enhance that global town hall experience,” he told the audience. “That ability to track and monitor the moments within an event either as they happen or to catch up with them after is something we want to enhance.”
Costolo’s full conversation is available in both video and audio format on the Brookings site.
Last night, as I sat at my computer with the Texas filibuster livestream open in one tab and tweets flying by in another, I was struck again by the feeling that Twitter is perfectly built for in-the-moment news. You have jokes mixed in with serious news alerts, mixed in with contradictory facts and short video clips and photos.
Sure, the national media was fairly absent from covering the event, but I was happy to wait for analysis the next day — Twitter provided more information than I could ever absorb in the moment. It was exhilarating to feel like I was particpating in a historic event, even if I was just sitting at my computer at home.
But anyone who’s ever watched the flow of tweets run by in a live event knows how hard it would be to re-create those moments after the fact. It’s easy to see why Costolo has a tough road ahead of him. He said on Wednesday that during the Olympics, Twitter tried to curate the most authoritative sources on the sports, like the athletes and commentators, to provide a sort of highlight reel from the games in an effort to solve the problem.
But that didn’t work. “You lost the roar of the crowd that really made Twitter feel like Twitter,” he said. “We need to be able to maintain that roar of the crowd while surfacing these moments.”
What might a replay look like? Costolo mentioned the possibility of graphs showing spikes in the conversation, so you could see when people were tweeting the most about a particular topic, and letting you go back to see those moments, or “DVR mode” for Twitter that would let you “re-watch” certain events.
“Right now, you get purely the reverse chronological order of the tweets,” he said “It would be nice to see like a graphic of spikes in the conversation, and what time did the happen … to be able to scroll back to that time and see what happened at that particular moment.”
Costolo said the company is “playing around with different models and ideas,” but if Twitter wants to become a truly mainstream platform for news and information — which Costolo is clearly embracing — it needs to come up with ways to engage the users who weren’t up late watching the filibuster last night.