Twitter has long been trying to tweak its service to make it more appealing to a mainstream audience. Now a former Twitter employee is taking that idea a step further. Stephen Phillips, who previously led the development of Twitter’s music app, just released a new iPhone and web app called Hash that aggregates trending topics and popular tweets into a kind of Twitter magazine.
The Hash iPhone app presents a curated list of Twitter’s trending topics as a stream of pictures and headlines. Users can then dive into any of these topics, with Hash giving them quick access to a Wikipedia article for background reading as well as a new stream of popular tweets and links to articles that have been shared a lot on Twitter.
Users can opt to retweet, favor or reply to tweets if they have signed in with their Twitter account, but the app works just as well for people who don’t want to interact on Twitter, or don’t even have a Twitter account — and that’s exactly the point. “I am a huge Twitter fanboy and power user. But my family and friends struggle to understand how to use it,” Philipps told me. Hash is his attempt to build a Twitter experience for those other 95 percent — consumers that don’t get Twitter, or have no desire to tweet.
It’s worth pointing out that this is still an early-stage project, and I found that the web app in particular sometimes had problems loading new tweets — but the concept is very interesting, and the simplicity of it sets itself nicely apart from the on-boarding process one has to go through to try out Twitter.
Phillips said that he uses a mixture of automation and human curation to compile topics and streams for Hash:
For Hash, we wrote code to monitor the trending topics on Twitter and monitor the most popular stories on the world’s top news sites. We then use humans to review these stories. The editors review the titles, hashtags and feature image. It is a fairly simple job, but critical to the quality of the user experience. Software is then used to identify the best tweets for each of these stories on Twitter right now.
This isn’t the first time Phillips has used this mixture of human curation and automated data mining to help people find better content. He co-founded the music curation site We Are Hunted in 2009, which helped users find new tracks by scouring music blogs and file sharing networks. He then led Twitter’s short-lived efforts to build its own music app, and recently unveiled a new SoundCloud-focused music curation service called Wonder.fm.