In the last month we’ve seen a few seemingly small changes to Twitter – removing the 140 character limit for Direct messagesadding product pages for Twitter shopping and launching autoplay video content. But a much bigger change is coming – one that has been discussed but full details are yet to be announced. Project Lightning is coming and will change Twitter for good.

Reports on Buzzfeed suggest that Project Lightning will be a core part of Twitter moving forward – a central button on the mobile app which brings useful information about realtime events. Twitter’s editorial team will curate images, videos and text that defines the big issues of the day in a similar way to Snapchat stories. We can imagine these covering sporting events, breaking news and lighter content (such as the recent heatwave in London or the canicule in France).

These units will become a (if not the) central part of Twitter. They will be embeddable across the internet, and will use the content that is produced by those people who are on Twitter to be consumed by people who are not.

When you think about the main purpose of Twitter, this is a natural development. Twitter isn’t really about 140 character limits. It’s about the simple statement you see whenever you load up the webpage or app: “What’s happening?”

Twitter has always been about the moment – capturing and sharing what is happening right now. As it has grown, it has become clear that it is not going to be the social platform that attracts the most people to actively create content. We don’t all want to write and share things about our lives, most of us just want to consume this. And Project Lightning is about packaging up the best of Twitter and making it relevant for those who do not actively contribute content to it.

Another challenge for Twitter is how it monetises the non-users who regularly visit the site but don’t have accounts. It is much more difficult to target them with relevant sponsored content as they are anonymous to Twitter. With Project Lightning, Twitter can package relevant sponsored content within their curated content for a given event. They could even allow brands to sponsor entire packages (perhaps sponsoring content for a sports game or from a given event). This allows them to build new ad models and new ways of targeting users with messaging based on the content they are reading.

So Project Lightning will bring significant change to Twitter, if not change it for good. The platform will become as much about capturing and reporting on these moments and events, as it will be about serving relevant content (from Twitter users and sponsored) across the internet to cover what is happening.

Of course, some things won’t change. To make these new packages of content work, Twitter will still need to attract people who capture and share this content in the first place. Twitter needs those of us who write Tweets just as much as they need to attract new audiences with packages of relevant content. The challenge will be to grow the one without losing the other.


Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Head of Digital Strategy for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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