Moments In Time: Twitter’s Newest Feature And The Future Of Legal News

Most articles about Twitter in the legal market focus on helping lawyers make better use of the service for marketing and business development purposes, and that’s all to the good. But Twitter serves another, arguably more important function: to supply its users with up-to-the-second information, either through tweets from accounts they follow or by tracking hashtags attached to updates from Twitter users everywhere. (A good example yesterday here in Canada, where a federal election took place, was the #PollWatch hashtag that followed reports of voting difficulties or irregularities at polling stations across the country.)

I use Twitter first and foremost for this purpose: to stay on top of news, insights, developments and trends in the legal market, as reported by about 200 personal and commercial accounts that I follow in the legal sector. I frequently retweet the best or most interesting of these to my own Twitter followers, sometimes with a piece of my own micro-commentary, but that just flows from my primary use of Twitter to remain informed. This is why I’ve always felt Twitter would be a valuable tool for a lawyer even if he or she never issued a single tweet: following informative accounts in your practice, industry, and community sectors is enough on its own to justify your investment of time and effort in Twitter.

So I wanted to bring to your attention a possible quantum leap forward in the utility of Twitter as a knowledge-gathering resource. Earlier this month, Twitter announced the launch of “Moments,” a new service that will identify and collect within a single stream the most useful, insightful, or engaging tweets issued on any given subject. Whether it’s the Emmy Awards or the Packers-Bears game, a natural disaster or a political demonstration, Twitter users can “tune into” the Moments stream of tweets on the subject and follow along to be informed, enlightened, amused and engaged by the commentary. When the event that triggered the stream of tweets ends or peters out, the Moment for that subject is automatically removed from the system; you don’t need to “unsubscribe” from it.

Technology strategist Ben Thompson thinks that Moments is a potential game-changer for Twitter and for social media generally, because he sees Moments as the natural evolution of, and replacement for, the newspaper. Moments offers Twitter users pre-determined categories such as News, Sports, Entertainment, and the like, no different from what your local daily broadsheet provides (or used to provide, anyway). The difference is that Moments is, by definition, moment-by-moment, whereas your newspaper is updated once a day. Unlike traditional media or even many new media, Moments also costs Twitter nothing for its content: all of its content is provided free by Twitter users. Moments is also perfectly designed to offer the most targeted type of online advertising the Web can currently deliver, potentially even better than what Facebook can pull off.

There are all sorts of angles to consider as Moments begins to roll out. (The update hasn’t yet reached my smartphone, as Twitter is evidently rolling out this new feature in stages.) Media analyst Jay Rosen points out that by adopting a curation function, Twitter has given itself an editorial dimension, one that requires certain choices be made about what is and isn’t going to get covered and which in turn creates new public expectations and social responsibilities for the company. Tech entrepreneur Josh Dickson is extremely disappointed with Moments’ debut, finding it to be a haphazard collection of celebrity tweets, with little evidence of advanced analytics or AI underlying its operations at this stage. If this is the kind of thing you find fascinating, I invite you to read these posts and explore the links provided therein.

What most interests me, however, is the eventual potential impact of Moments on the legal industry. Let’s think positive and assume that Twitter straightens out its tracking systems and makes defensible editorial choices, and that Moments really takes off in the ways that Ben Thompson envisions. In short order, Moments would develop far narrower and more sophisticated categories than just “News” and “Sports,” and eventually it would get around to industries and professions. What would “Moments: Law” look like? What “legal moments” would you want to follow?

More arrestingly, would you strive to have your own tweets on a subject included in a “Moments” stream? Think about the impact of having one of your tweets, linked to your home page and profile, included in a stream of updates that reaches millions of interested people worldwide, simultaneously. Would that be less or more attractive than trying to get your article published in your local legal periodical? Would that possibility pose any challenges to those legal periodicals themselves? If “news” and “analysis” continue to become more real-time, crowdsourced, and viral, what might that mean for your firm’s publishing strategy? For legal periodicals? For public legal education?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, and I’m not even sure they’re the right questions yet. But when I look at Moments, I can see a potential successor to the traditional periodical — and there are a whole lot of periodicals in the legal market, serving both the sellers and buyers of legal services. Even if Moments crashes and burns on the launchpad, something else like it will eventually emerge and catch on, because we still need news to maintain and grow our knowledge of the world around us and inform our actions in response, and social media has changed our conceptions and expectations of what news is, when we can find it, and how we can engage with it.

Twitter Moments, regardless of its own eventual success, foreshadows the emergence of a very different world for legal news, legal marketing, and legal knowledge management over the next decade or so. Stay tuned.

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