Since practically the very beginning, one of Twitter’s biggest challenges has been helping people find the best of what’s happening on its platform. (Other challenges include curbing abuse, dealing with Nazis, and Donald Trump’s Android phone.) Years ago, the app had a “Discover” section that was meant to help you find the best, coolest, most #important things on Twitter. From its ashes rose Moments, a tool for collecting tweets to tell stories longer than 140 characters.
Twitter’s new Explore tab bundles Moments, trending topics, search, and live video into a single page.
Now the company’s trying yet again, as it comes into something like a do-or-die year. Beginning today and rolling out over the next few weeks, users will start to see a new section, called Explore, that’s designed to help you find all the things happening on Twitter right now. The new section is a mix of algorithm-personalized and human-curated: it bundles Moments, trending topics, search, and live video into a single page. All together, Twitter hopes Explore will give you a more complete picture of the Twitterverse at any given moment.
In a way, Explore almost sounds a bit like a 2017 take on a newswire—a real-time look at what’s happening in the world, sourced directly from videos and tweets. That’s very much in line with Twitter’s vision of its role in the world, as the place where news breaks and is discussed. Explore also sounds like a blissful reprieve from the timeline, which to many has started to feel less like a social network and more like the beginning of a hernia. “Reading Twitter these days is like ordering a coffee and getting two rails of coke instead,” the writer Chris Jones tweeted on Wednesday. In short, Twitter has become exhausting. There are too many bad apples, who are too hard to ignore. There’s too much bad news, too much hot-takiness, too much everything.
There’s good stuff happening on Twitter, though. Somewhere. There are comedians, news-breakers, and those fighting for justice. It’s where we get to hang out with our favorite couple, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend. It’s a place for the President of the United States to do some late-night policy thinking. But in the tidal flood of tweets, most of which are (let’s face it) terrible and unnecessary, it’s easy to miss the stuff you’d actually want. So Twitter’s primary objective seems to be finding ways to surface the good stuff.
Problem is, that’s been Twitter’s goal for a while now, without much to show for it. Moments didn’t make Twitter the digestible place it hoped to be; algorithmically sorting people’s timelines didn’t send users flocking to the platform either. And this is all ignoring Twitter’s biggest problem, the harassment and abuse that face too many of its users. The company has sworn it’s committed to that problem as well, but it’ll likely be an uphill climb. “I personally believe,” Nick Bilton, whose book Hatching Twitter chronicled the beginning of the company, told me last year, “that people are just fed up with social networks. And they think of Twitter as a really mean place.” For Twitter, he says, the question is “how are you going to entice people to get back on the network?”
If Explore works, it could help people find the fun parts of Twitter, the events and stories that make everyone gather around the global water cooler. If it doesn’t, that second tab in the Twitter app will become something else in a few months. President Trump seems likely to ensure Twitter’s relevance for at least four years, so maybe it has a few tries left.