A Theory on Twitter and Why “Moments” Matters

For a long time now, Twitter has marketed itself as the best way to get closer to whatever you’re passionate about, get real-time updates on these interests, go behind-the-scenes, and generally, be an insider. While this approach has helped Twitter swell to over 300 million monthly active users and driven a lot of product decisions, particularly on-boarding, and informed positioning (i.e. you don’t need to Tweet to get incredible value out of Twitter) it’s clear that growth is plateauing. Journalists / tech pundits / wannabe Twitter product managers blame a stagnant product roadmap and the fairly complicated nature of the service.

However, what if, quite simply, Twitter’s slowing growth has much less to do with the current state of the product (Moments excluded) and more to do with user behavior and psychology? By that, I mean Twitter caters to power users, power fans, addicts of various subjects, people who a rush from being the first to know about or share something. News junkies and journalists, tech / startup community members, celebrity devotees, and sports diehards are born for Twitter. Each “pull to refresh” is like a mini-hit of dopamine for this crowd. I believe that there may be only a finite number of Type A users who need this rush and feed off of the immediacy of Twitter, and perhaps, this segment of the user base is approaching its ceiling. The pace of Twitter is overwhelming, even stressful, for many, and they don’t feel the compulsion to connect intimately with the intricacies of a topic — and that’s OK!

This is where Moments comes in. Many hardcore Twitter users have already proclaimed that Moments isn’t “for us” — it’s for lapsed users and yet-to-be indoctrinated Tweeters.

[As an aside, let me refute this immediately. As someone who lives on Twitter 24/7, Moments is a great way to augment my addiction to the product. Seamlessly having new accounts slide into my feed, and then just as seamlessly disappear after an event ends, was pretty magical during the Astros-Yankees game on Tuesday night. The human curatorial touch is exactly what the product has needed for a while, and it’s philosophically consistent with the non-algorithmic nature of the feed.]

Moments is the ideal hook to re-engage or acquire users who aren’t pulling to refresh like it’s an involuntary twitch. As Ben Thompson has pointed out, Twitter has “just reinvented the newspaper.” Moments should be positioned as the absolute best way to catch up on your day. It should be the first stop for anyone who wants a high level overview of what’s going on or recently took place — it’s the 30,000-foot view of a subject while relying on the feed is getting into the weeds. On-boarding for new users should be focused on high level interests, which can inform the personalization of Moments over time in addition to the ones with which users engage without being prompted. If this works, watch out.

But, in my opinion, the real genius of Moments is how it exposes users, both veterans and recent sign-ups, to new accounts. Hardcore users lament the staleness of their feeds and the desire to discover new people to follow. More importantly, though, following Moments and even browsing through them is a brilliantly clever way for Twitter to help new users build a feed from scratch — a problem that has plagued Twitter from the dawn of time. I’d make it ridiculously easy for people to quickly follow new accounts they discover from tuning into a Moment or surfing the Moments tab. The suggested follower list for all users should also be comprised of accounts that appear most frequently in Moments with which they interact. I believe this will significantly resolve the cold start issue that new users face when constructing their feeds.

Ultimately, Moments is a critical, even vital, product within Twitter. It is Twitter’s response to accepting that a substantial number of people, perhaps the majority, want a lighter weight product with higher level storytelling and will never be the Type A user who takes the time to build a feed, gets into the weeds of a subject, or feels the compulsion to refresh their feed constantly.