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Twitter's Current Events Feature Sounds a Lot Like Snapchat's Current Events Feature

The good news for Twitter: There's money to be had.

Screenshot via ABC/

Twitter is about to get much more serious about live events, and there’s good money to be had in that arena — just ask Snapchat.

Twitter showed off a new project to BuzzFeed this week, a feature code-named Lightning, that will be a new tab within the Twitter app where you can follow tweets and videos related to specific events like the Oscars or the Kentucky Derby. It’s a way for Twitter to more easily categorize the millions of tweets people send per day so users can actually find the ones they want to read.

You also don’t need a Twitter account to follow along, so the feature could help Twitter grow its user base in the process.

But what Twitter hasn’t talked about is how it plans to make money from Lightning. Snapchat currently offers a similar feature called Live Stories that pulls in curated photos and videos from users to create a montage around a particular event.

It’s also selling ad space alongside those stories and, in many cases, making hundreds of thousands of dollars per day.

It’s safe to say Twitter can — and eventually will — do the same, although the company hasn’t said whether or not it will include ads in these timelines when they launch. The draw for advertisers is that they get to reach an audience that has indicated an interest in a specific event; it’s the same kind of targeting TV advertisers have used for decades.

Twitter has an added bonus over Snapchat: It can show these ads to people who don’t even have a Twitter account. Twitter has been arguing for almost a year that its audience is much larger than the 300 million people that log into their account each month. Now it has an opportunity to make money off the people who want to take a peek at what Twitter’s users are saying about the Super Bowl, but without the commitment of signing up for the service.

There’s still some unknowns around Lightning. Twitter hasn’t set a launch date, at least not publicly (although CEO Dick Costolo has hinted multiple times that he’s excited about products coming out this fall).

It’s also unknown how many people Twitter will hire to curate these tweets into interesting timelines; a company spokesperson declined to comment on how many curators the company is looking to hire.

Twitter says the event streams will be curated by a combination of humans and technology, but the human curation part sounds like the key. Twitter is investing in machine-learning technology and it’s creating algorithms that will handle some of this collection.

But those systems aren’t bulletproof — we’ve already seen unfortunate errors occur without human editors overseeing the content — and this will be extra important when Twitter creates timelines for potentially sensitive issues, like the police protests in Ferguson, Mo.

Snapchat has hired more than 40 editors, and it’s currently producing two or three events per day. Twitter wants to do seven to 10 of these timelines per day. That’s a lot of curators.

Update: Twitter is looking to hire about a dozen human curators worldwide, and only five or so in the United States, according to sources, which suggests the human curation element doesn’t appear to be a top priority.

Also worth noting is that this focus on live events was a big part of investor Chris Sacca’s lengthy letter to Twitter earlier this month chock-full of solutions to improve the product. Clearly Twitter has been working on this idea for a lot longer than two weeks, but it’s also something for which investors and users have been clamoring for years.

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