Last week, Twitter’s own death was trending on its platform through #RIPTwitter as users reacted, in an uproar, toward the new algorithmic timeline. Rather than giving Twitter users what they wanted, the company decided to move the social platform in a different direction with a non-chronological, algorithm-based timeline that will primarily show you tweets on topics Twitter thinks you want to see.
The feature is currently available on Twitter for use if you want. Eventually, the plan would be to make this the norm on all Twitter accounts. If you head to your ‘settings’ menu, you’ll see a ‘Timeline’ option, which Twitter is referring to as “show me the best tweets first.” By checking this box, you enable the new non-chronological timeline and thus the tweets you are likely to care about (based on the algorithm) will show up first in your feed.
I went ahead and checked the box and tested my new Twitter timeline for a few days. Here are the pros and cons I found:
Twitter has had the “while you were away” feature for a while and the non-chronological timeline is really just an extended version of that. What I always liked about the “while you were away” feature is that it gave you about three interesting or important tweets you missed, like a quick summary before diving into your feed. With the timeline enacted, you see more faster, meaning you don’t need to spend a lot of time scrolling through the feed to find the good stuff you missed.
One of the biggest protests Twitter users have about this new timeline is that it makes Twitter feel a lot less like Twitter, and a lot more like Facebook.
When Facebook introduced its news feed timeline, you started getting news based on what your friends were sharing or talking about; or based on what Facebook thought you’d find interesting. By putting the tweets they think you want to see first, Twitter is curating the news, and your friend’s tweets, in that same way.
It gets really annoying when you see tweets that make you think “why do I want to see this, or why is this showing up” which is what I always found so irritating on Facebook…and now Twitter is forcing me to let them curate what news it thinks I find important.
Now, the way I see it, the algorithm is based off your activity on Twitter. So, the pro here is that you could get the timeline to be super useful and helpful for getting rid of the stupid tweets you see. But honestly, if you’re sorting through a bunch of tweets all the time that you find irritating, you really should just unfollow those accounts. If you don’t want to, just make sure you’re mostly click on, liking and following the tweets and accounts you actually find interesting. That way, your teaching the timeline what you like and dislike, so the tweets you do find important are the ones that show up first. This way, I can see how the timeline could be useful, as it will learn what you like and push those tweets first, and save the other stuff toward the back for when you’re bored.
One thing that I find very odd with the non-chronological timeline is that conversations will be missing tweets. Whether you’re sending out a “tweetstorm”, a string of related tweets or following a conversation thread, the algorithm seems to discourage those types of behaviors on Twitter. So if someone were to post a “tweetstorm” I’d assume Twitter would only show you the “parts you’d like.”
Going back to the first point about this being an extended version of the “while you were away” report, the new timeline really just feels like a bunch of features we already knew about put in one place. Twitter has already been slyly calling our attention to certain tweets, some tweets on a users’ profile will appear in a larger text size, you can ‘pin’ your favorite tweet to the top of your page and, if you search something, you will be brought to the “top tweets” page highlighting the best tweets about whatever you searched.
Moreover, don’t forget the new “Live” tab that Twitter rolled out not too long ago. But, when you are viewing tweets in the “Live” tab, those tweets are in chronological order. Which brings me to my next point…
When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded to the backlash following the announcement of the timeline feature, he tweeted, “Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who and what you follow. And Twitter is here to stay, by becoming more Twitter-y.”
Twitter is supposed to be about tweets happening in real-time, right? I understand that the point of the algorithm is to bring you the tweets you want to see, and to help you build connections in real-time based on your interests, but isn’t the timeline the opposite of that? When I log into my Twitter now, I see tweets from hours ago where I used to see tweets as they were happening.
Plus, don’t we all love Twitter because of live tweeting? What will happen when an artist or celebrity does a Twitter Q&A? I won’t know it’s happening right then and there, and instead, it might show up if Twitter determines it’s something I want to know about – and then I’ll see all the past tweets. What about when breaking news hits, when there is a disaster or disheartening news happening? I won’t see real-time coverage or reactions from my followers. I’ll find out about things later, when Twitter thinks it’s appropriate and says it’s something I missed.
So, when you take away that feeling of tweets being “live,” is it really that different than logging onto your Facebook at the end of the day and seeing your “news” feed of “only the important things you missed?”
I can see the good intentions Twitter has with this algorithm, but I’d rather just have an “edit” button.