Wide awake at 4am this morning, I was sadly aware of the Brussels attack soon after it happened. As I opened Twitter, my timeline talked about the attacks but in tiny snippets (as Twitter is supposed to be) and my first take was one of confusion: I really couldn’t see the forest for the trees. For the first time I clicked on Moments to see if I could get the bigger picture.
It turns out that Moments did a great job, much better than I expected, giving me a concentrated story with a few videos, photos and headlines. I understood what happened right away, which led me to wonder, later in the morning, how the other big players are dealing with breaking news. News is a hot product that all of them want to own, but nobody is quite sure how to best serve user and publisher needs. Here are the major differences between them:
- The topics: are they curated, trending or driven by my “interests?” I think that this is the most important product decision news apps need to make. Take these four examples, taken this morning: Twitter Moments is driven (I assume) by what the majority of users are discussing, Google Now shows me only topics I have expressed an interest in and shuns breaking news, Facebook seems to be a mix of trying to mix breaking news with what my network is discussing, and for comparison, the New York Times is purely about breaking news, selected by their editors. When the protests in Ferguson started in 2014, Twitter was a much better source for users for both awareness and in-depth content. Facebook, on the other hand, showed users what was liked by their social network. That has changed as Facebook has tried to highlight actual breaking news as well, but Twitter still has a better understanding about what people are talking about now. Bottom line is that the better curator will have user loyalty.
- In or out: how much outside of the app does the user need to go to get the full story? The two extremes are the New York Times, which is to be expected from a news app that includes only its content, and Google Now, that shows a short paragraph but stories are hosted on external sites. Twitter keeping the entire story in the app, with representative videos and headlines and manages to create a complete and up-to-date picture. Facebook, closer to Google’s model, takes users to a newsfeed of relevant posts but users still need to click to an external site.
- The source: much less important than the top two criteria, but users do want a reputable source for news, where reputable can mean either a formal news outlet or eyewitness evidence. Images from Brussels this morning are powerful and perhaps generate more interest than the reports from news outlets. Providing access to these raw images is something Twitter does extremely well and fast whereas Facebook seems to aggregate the official resources. Google Now just seems to place an importance on the topic, not on the source.
Does all this matter? I think so. Beyond the desire to “own” this space by all the players News is considered an important mobile category, where users spend almost 12 minutes a day (yes, this is considered significant.) Getting this right is important. By giving users immediate access to raw footage and neatly summarizing trending events I think Twitter’s Moments is one of the best news products out there.