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Looking to capitalize on its position as a key source for real-time updates on news and events, Twitter’s testing out a new breaking news module, which will highlight big news stories at the top of user timelines.

Image via Casey Newton/Twitter.

As reported by BuzzFeed, the new module is an extension of their ‘Happening Now’ updates, which were launched in beta last October, and up till now, have focused purely on sports events.

The new version adds in important news updates – tap on a story card and you’ll be taken to a specific listing of tweets related to that event, enabling you to keep up with the latest info.

 

At present, the listings are being curated by humans to ensure they best represent each issue (and are not flooded with spam), but Twitter’s plan is to fully automate the process in future, enabling them to scale the option with minimal labor commitment.

But that’s not as easy as it may seem. Facebook, for example, has tried several times to create algorithm-defined alternate news feeds to broaden users’ usage habits and expose them to more content.

But because those feeds have been fully automated, their utility has been limited – as algorithms are unable to identify duplicated posts from different users, for example, you end up with a heap of the same story shared by different people, and there have been various issues with offensive posts filtering in or spammers who’ve worked out how to game the system for exposure.

Really, the best example of a discovery feed is Reddit – scroll through the top posts from Reddit and you’ll get a wide variety of content which has been upvoted by actual humans, and vetted by human curators, in the form of mods on each subreddit.

Of course, for Twitter and/or Facebook, that would mean hiring more people – Reddit has been able to build their community over time, and it would be a very difficult system to replicate.

As such, algorithms will remain key to the success or failure of this new tool, which likely, given past examples, will lead to limited value. But then again, Twitter’s always looking for more ways to show users more relevant content, and to expose them to the best the platform has to offer. Adding breaking news stories into the mix could help in this regard – it’s the scale that’s the question, and the capacity for Twitter to keep those updates relevant as it’s stretched beyond the grasp of human curators.

Twitter’s breaking news module is now being tested among a small group of users on both iOS and Android in the US.



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