In the course of our work, we make a lot of small experiments, often in code. Sometimes we hit upon something that may not be a signal from the future, but is quite useful in the present. Vellum is one such project.
One of my primary uses for Twitter is to find interesting reading material: breaking news, long reads, research relevant to my work, or funny things about maps. However, Twitter’s interface treats commentary as primary and content as secondary, which can make it difficult to discover things to read if I’m mostly interested in that secondary content.
To address this use case, we created Vellum. Vellum acts as a reading list for your Twitter feed, finding all the links that are being shared by those you follow on Twitter and displaying them each with their full titles and descriptions. This flips the Twitter model, treating the links as primary and the commentary as secondary (you can still see all the tweets about each link, but they are less prominent). Vellum puts a spotlight on content, making it easy to find what you should read next.
We also wanted to include signals about what might be most important to read right now, so links are ranked by how often they have been shared by those you follow on Twitter, allowing you to stay informed about the news your friends and colleagues are discussing most.
Vellum was built as a quick experiment, but as we and other groups within The New York Times have been using it over the past few months, it has proven to be an invaluable tool for using Twitter as a content discovery interface. So today we are opening up Vellum to the public. We hope you find it as useful as we have. Happy reading!