The 'World Cup Starter Kit' and the Future of Twitter

The social network unveils its brilliant new way to tap new users directly into exciting new networks of interesting people.
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I opened my Twitter tab this evening to discover that Twitter had placed a bar across my timeline inviting me to unlock some special World Cup features. Well, I like the World Cup and I love special features, so I clicked through.

What I found was smart. Twitter has created "starter kits" for each of the sides playing the Mundial. Each one has about 90 Twitter accounts that help you follow what's happening in real time. If you were a new user and didn't know how to follow soccer on the service, this would instantly put you in the real-time networks that talk about the sport. 

I think it also speaks to how Twitter sees its mass market play. It has captured the hearts and minds of people who want to know about the news before it's on the blogs (and a variety of other dense, fast social networks). 

But how many people really care about the news in the way that the core mechanics of the network encourage? More than 10 million probably, but a lot less than 100 million. In the US, the network's active user growth has nearly stalled out. And it has proven difficult, despite international user growth, to keep total timeline views (a proxy for engagement) growing. 

So, Twitter needs to bring in and then retain more new users. And a great way to do that is to take these big events that are so fun to follow on Twitter and find a way to make an advanced user experience available to the noobs. That's what the starter kit does, and it's one of the best ways that I've seen Twitter enhance the new user experience. 

While they've been working on making things better for new people, most of their effort has been tweaking the user interface and improving account recommendations. This is a wholly different animal: they're trying to plug people into new and interesting networks, which taps directly into Twitter's value proposition for the people who really love it. 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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