For all its usefulness and entertainment value, Twitter can occasionally feel like sipping water from a firehose. Actually, “firehose” is the name Twitter gives to its stream of data, so it’s not exaggeration; there really is often just too much. Fortunately, it seems like Twitter is looking to fix that unmanageable flood with its purchase of Summify, a Vancouver-based startup.
Summify is–or rather was–part of a growing number of apps that try to filter social feeds to get at the really important stories and then deliver them to users (the Standard did a roundup of such apps last year). But if Twitter’s function is real-time information, what does Twitter want with a service that filters its own users’ content–and content from Facebook and Google Reader too?
Here’s a potential theory. If during its early years Twitter was seen as a social microblogging tool, it later morphed to become an information network: the place you went to find out what was going on, or what was hot in fields you were interested in. Trouble is, follow a few hundred people–as many users of the service do–and it all starts to get a bit overwhelming, as the flow of tweets turns into a torrent.
As Mike Davidson pointed out in an excellent post on the subject, the acquisition of Summify will give average users even more reason to log on because the startup’s tech will help to filter important stories based on who you follow and who you consider important. As Davidson smartly points out, it’s not hard to imagine a little UI tweak that would see the top five to ten news stories appear on the side of your Twitter feed.
But let’s push this a little further. Twitter now has a chance to tie up both ends of the aggregated news chain: the spread of the diffuse scattering of real-time reportage, tidbits and links, and the packaged, aggregation of that chatter a la social magazines like Flipboard or Zite. Much the same way Google News collects information and Google Currents puts it in a presentable format, Summify may help Twitter do something similar with links. To wit, in a year or two from now, we may see Twitter acting as two halves of the same coin: one the microblogging feed that we now know, the other a social magazine optimized for phones and tablets.
Which is to say that Twitter may now do what a couple of years ago seemed unthinkable: get into publishing. And it will do it in a rather new way, potentially being the first company to crowdsource, aggregate and artfully present news and information. In doing so, Twitter will get one step closer to becoming a media company. For an entity that, though successful, isn’t raking in billions, it’s a potentially smart move that may see it monetize the entirety of its information network, rather just one part.