In a previous blog, we mentioned that Twitter is planning to up their current 140 character limit to a 10,000 characters. Last week, Buzzfeed reported that Twitter is about to introduce a new “algorithmic timeline” which will arrange tweets depending on perceived relevance, rather than the current chronological system. This would make it more similar to Facebook’s newsfeed. Twitter already introduced its “While You Were Away” feature last year, which operates along this principle.
The report prompted outrage from Twitter users, who used the hashtag #RIPTwitter over the weekend to express their disdain for the idea. One of the main reasons for the protests was the fact that the current system allows all tweets an equal chance to be seen, rather than prioritising certain pieces of content over others. Another was the fact that users perceived this as an attempt by Twitter to piggyback on the much larger success of Facebook rather than making the most of its own unique features.
Today, Twitter confirmed that they have made changes to its timeline, but it doesn’t seem like it’s a major overhaul just yet. The first few tweets people see when they visit the site or the app will be algorithmically chosen. However, when people use the “pull-to-refresh action”, more tweets will be brought up in the standard reverse-chronological sequence. Initially, users will need to opt into the algorithm by turning it on themselves.
It remains to be seen how an algorithm change will affect the way people use Twitter, but it will be interesting to see how the social media platform changes in the coming months and years. On the one hand, long time users may protest the fact that some content is being given higher prominence. On the other hand, this kind of timeline has succeeded for Facebook and may encourage new and casual users to join Twitter.
One of Twitter’s main concerns is that although there are large numbers of hardcore longtime users, it has struggled to attract new people and match the rapid growth of other platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. To inexperienced users, the long lists of fast flowing, reverse-chronological tweets can seem intimidating or offputting. The introduction of a new timeline system may seem more appealing to newer, more casual users, as they know they will be presented with relevant content rather than having to scroll through everything on their timeline to find the tweets they want to see. By introducing an opt-in system at first, Twitter are striking a balance between attracting new people and not alienating committed users.