Skip to main content

Twitter Highlights on Android is the best feature you're not using

Twitter Highlights on Android is the best feature you're not using


Step aside, Moments

Share this story

Twitter on Android has always felt a little second-class compared to Twitter on iOS. But the Android version has a feature that I love and that you should love too: Highlights.

Highlights is a simple idea: find the dozen or so best tweets from the past day or so from your Twitter feed and put them in a horizontally-scrolling list. If you haven't logged into Twitter for awhile, it gives you a nice and quick way of getting caught up with what's happening with the people that you follow. Think of it like the old Twitter Discover tab, except not filled with ads and follow suggestions.

In fact, Twitter has two ways of showing you Tweets you missed. There's "while you were away," which sticks a box of them directly into your timeline. iPhone users and Android users both see this feature, but it's not as powerful nor as nice as Highlights — which is in a separate section on Android and has a clearer presentation. It's a little confusing, which probably means that someday Twitter will try to clean it up. When that happens, I dearly hope it keeps Highlights.

Highlights has been around since April for English-speaking users, and launched globally in September. It hasn't gotten very much attention. Instead, all the attention has been directed at a newer feature, Moments, which launched last month.

In brief, Moments is a curated set of tweets presented in a way that doesn't look a whole lot like tweets. It's been well received, though in my heart I wonder if it's been well received because everybody has Twitter Feature Stockholm Syndrome and is just happy to see a new thing that isn't kind of a mess. In our piece about the announcement, Casey Newton made reference to "an editor at The Verge [who] nearly flipped a table, for example, when I told him he could not personalize Moments to his liking." That editor is me.

I don't use Moments much, mainly because Twitter chooses all the source material without regard to the target audience — to wit, its users. Moments is a general news source. It gets more attention because Twitter made it a top-level button on the app and, more to the point, because it's a more strategically interesting product. Twitter is the nexus of a global, real-time conversation and a real source of news and information for millions — and Moments is the first product the company has put out that feels like it's genuinely designed to leverage that.

Moments gets all the attention, but I use Highlights more

In fact, Moments is so interesting, it's keeping me from just doing the thing I came here to do: praise Highlights. There are so many business, cultural, and news angles that it begs you to noodle on and on about it. I just wrote and deleted three paragraphs about it.

Highlights, by comparison, is dead simple: Twitter knows you missed a bunch of popular tweets from your feed, so it shows them to you.

Highlights also feels more native to Twitter than moments. Sure, it's a horizontally-scrolling list of cards, but those cards are tied to tweets and links. There are Retweet and Like buttons, and getting back into the classic Twitter is easy. There's a button you just tap, right there, which alternately says "View Tweet," "View Conversation," or "View Tweets" (for tweets about a single link).

Moments, on the other hand, asks you to tap to zoom, then tap a three-dot menu, then tap to view the actual tweet (Though, what does "actual tweet" even mean in these contexts? Moments! Damn you for your conceptual complexity, I am not trying to write about you!).

You can even set Highlights to give you a daily notification to check them, and I'm pretty sure Twitter is even being smart about them — it only sends it if you haven't checked Highlights yourself in awhile.

Please Twitter, don't kill Highlights

There's a cottage industry for stories that try to talk about what Twitter needs to do next based on ideas of what Twitter is now. Is it a global news source? Is it a real-time water cooler conversation for a tiny group of power internet users? Is it a social network or a micro-broadcasting network? It is trying to be more like Facebook or more like itself? (Whatever that is.)

The answer to those questions, of course, is "yes" in every instance. And Highlights is great because it shows that Twitter is willing to admit that it can be different things to different kinds of users.

So if you have an Android phone and use the official Twitter app, take a moment to try out Highlights. My deep fear is that Twitter is going to kill the feature in one of its regular random sweeps of the corners of the app, so maybe a few more people using it will keep Twitter from doing that. Hell, maybe it will convince Twitter to bring this feature to the iPhone.

Now, about that Like button...