What Twitter custom timelines are and what they're not

Today Twitter announced what it's calling "custom timelines", although I'd aruge a better name may be "curated timelines" or even simply, "stories" (sorry Storify, no disrespect).

The new custom timelines feature allows users to build an artificial stream of tweets by hand-selecting tweets sharing a common theme--nothing at all. That timeline can then be shared via URL or embedded on a website. Brands, journalists, and any other user now have the ability to tell a story around an event, a product launch, or a common topic by searching Twitter for keywords and hashtags and building a perspective. 

  • Imagine panels at conferences being able to currate a list of audience questions for display to the audience.
  • Or a news outlet pulling together the tweets it thinks best represent a natrual disaster for embed on their website.
  • Or an event coordinator showing off the best tweets posted at an awards show. 

Granted, the above examples were possible before today but required paid platforms, basically limiting access to big brands. 

People are asking, on Twitter naturally, if curated timelines are the same as lists. Curated timelines are not lists. Twitter lists still exist. Lists are people-based while custom timelines are content-based. If you want to see tweets only from known tech bloggers to see what they're saying, you create a list and then view that list's timeline. If you want to hand-pick the best tweets from said tech bloggers about the latest gadget that just came out, you create a custom timeline and embed it on your blog or tweet it out to your followers.

I've seen a lot of people tweeting that custom timelines now provide users with "multiple timelines." However, custom timelines don't continue to move unless you keep adding content. Custom timelines don't help you consume more content, but rather share a view with others. 

Most people probably won't employ custom timelines. This is definitely a tool aimed at the curators (e.g., brands, journalists) out there rather than everyday users. And yes, for now you can only create custom timelines using Tweetdeck, but surely Twitter will add curation methods to their website and mobile apps in due time.

I hope that clears up some of the confusion around what custom timelines are. If you have questions, please leave them in the comments!

UPDATE: added mention of Tweetdeck

Chris Fohlin

Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA