Twitter embeds itself in breaking news with Custom Timelines

Twitter is notoriously slow-moving when it comes to making major changes to the Timeline, the central feature of the global town square, but the now-public company is taking a big step forward with Custom Timelines.

Not to be confused with Twitter Lists, which lets you group accounts you follow by theme, Custom Timelines let you design and share Timelines of specific tweets. The feature is only accessible to TweetDeck users, for now—you didn’t think Twitter would revolutionize the Timeline overnight, did you?—but could have huge ramifications going forward.

Creating a Custom Timeline in TweetDeck is as easy as adding a new column.

How to build a Custom Timeline

You can delete a Custom Timeline or share it with the world.

The Timeline functions normally on the website and within Twitter apps and clients as a constantly refreshing (mostly) chronological stream of updates from people you follow. If you use Twitter-owned TweetDeck—which is desktop-only—you can create a Timeline that includes only tweets you hand-select.

Within TweetDeck, add a new “custom timeline” column. You can name the new Timeline and add a description, then drag and drop tweets into the Timeline. This will be particularly useful for breaking news, major events, or inside jokes with friends that you really want to share with the world.

Custom Timelines are designed to be shared, and TweetDeck lets you choose to embed the Timeline on a third-party site, share it on Twitter.com, or tweet about it. If you want to delete a tweet from the Timeline, just X it out. Use TweetDeck to delete the Timeline altogether.

Just like you can see other users’ Twitter Lists—if they’re public—you can also view others’ Custom Timelines by clicking on their profile within TweetDeck.

Customizing the town square

Twitter is aggressively marketing itself as a media company, a place where people make news and break news. That could be a key piece of its money-making strategy in its new age as a public company. Custom Timelines offer another way for publishers to integrate with Twitter, curating and embedding event- or news-related Timelines, thereby making Twitter an essential part of the conversation.

News organizations are already using Custom Timelines in a variety of ways: Politico created a custom hub to track energy-related tweets, while The Guardian used the tool to curate a Timeline from Tuesday’s Twitter Q&A with reporters who are covering Edward Snowden's NSA leaks.

All Custom Timelines are public, another nod to Twitter’s position as a self-described global town square. While Facebook is wading into the public waters with its own news endeavors—Public Feeds,hashtags, trending topics, and embeddable posts—its default nature is private. If users sense any attempt on Facebook’s part to make their experience less private, revolution begins to foment.

Custom Timelines are rolling out to TweetDeck users over the next few days, but I wouldn’t be surprised if TweetDeck users are the beta testers for a more widespread rollout.

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