Twitter has a new way to allow people to curate tweets — Twitter Custom Timelines. Why does it need this when it already had another long-standing tool for tweet curation, Twitter Lists? The new system may allow brands to make better use of embedded tweets than lists allow, which in turn may further extend Twitter’s reach into the Web.
The Limitations Of Twitter Lists
Not familiar with Twitter Lists? Don’t feel bad. I routinely encounter people who have no idea that the feature, added in October 2009, exists. Twitter Lists allow anyone to easily organize Twitter accounts into a list.
For example, Marketing Land has a list of all our contributors. Our Marketing Land list means you see all the people we’ve organized into the list and follow them, if you click one-by-one:
You can also go to a page to see all the things they’ve been tweeting, a stream of tweets that can also be made embeddable into any web page:
What’s not to like about the Twitter Lists feature? The curation is fairly limited. You can’t show particular tweets from individuals. You have to show all the tweets from everyone on a list. You can’t make lists around hashtags.
Custom Timelines & Hand Curation
Enter Twitter Custom Timelines.
One of the big capabilities Custom Timelines gives anyone, right now, is the ability to hand-pick tweets into a list they want to share or embed into a web page, similar to how Storify works.
Using Twitter’s TweetDeck application, someone can select all the tweets they want to feature. This is how the Carson Daily “Carson’s Voice” timeline appears:
Nothing is appearing on that timeline automatically. Rather, Daly — or someone working for Daly — is selectively deciding what tweets should be featured and adding them to this “timeline,” which is really more like a favorite tweets list. This timeline can then be viewed by anyone or embedded into pages.
Custom Timelines & Automatic Curation
Of course, it can be a pain to constantly have to be adding tweets one-by-one to a timeline. That’s where the Custom Timelines has a solution. For those with access to the Twitter Custom Timelines API (a limited number, since this is in beta testing), they can choose which accounts should have tweets automatically flow into a timeline. Consider how Politico is doing this:
Politico is using the API to make a timeline called “Energy reporters” that shows all the tweets coming from a list of energy reporters they’ve have picked. Politico only needs to make a list of reporters, and then it’s done. The tweets flow in. It doesn’t have to hand-pick which tweets to actually include.
That’s very similar to how Twitter Lists work. The difference is that with the API, Politico could also do things like only include tweets from reporters if they mention particular words deemed energy-related or during certain times of the day. That helps keep a timeline focused on its topic by perhaps keeping personal tweets out.
Custom Timelines & Hashtags
Hashtag support is an important addition that Twitter Custom Timelines allows over Twitter Lists. Just as you can make a custom timeline based on accounts, you can also do that for hashtags. You can’t do that with Twitter Lists. You can do that with a Twitter widget for search, but few might think about this. Custom Timelines might raise new awareness of this capability.
Twitter Lists Get Left Behind
To me, Twitter Custom Timelines are like Twitter Lists 2.0 — Twitter’s second attempt to make curation work as a way to increase embeds of Twitter content across the Web. Unfortunately, it’s puzzling why work done by some in Twitter Lists — and the ability for anyone to make API-like timelines using Twitter Lists — isn’t included in the new effort.
As I said, relatively few seem to be aware of Twitter Lists much less make much use of it. But some have — and all that time curating lists now feels kind of wasted. If you’ve got a great list of 50 people on a particular topic, you have to start afresh to make a custom timeline equivalent of them now. You also have to do that using an API, which leaves out people who don’t have or don’t need the programming chops.
A better launch would have leveraged Twitter Lists. It could have allowed anyone to take a list and turn it into a custom timeline, no API required.
Twitter didn’t have any comment to share about this oversight when I asked, but maybe this is something that will be attended to later.
Twitter’s Embedding Of The Web
Overall the big takeaway remains. Twitter has found another way to entice people to add Twitter content to their web pages, following on these others from the past two years:
- Embeddable Tweets: Add Single Tweets To Any Web Page & Skip The Screenshots
- Up Close With Twitter’s New “Timeline Widgets”
- Embedded Tweets Will Now Contain Photos, Videos & Additional Content
- Vine Adds Video Embedding, Expands Social Sharing
The more Twitter expands into the Web, the more potential eyeballs are on those tweets — and the more valuable Twitter’s prospects of selling those eyeballs to advertisers become.