Updated on December 10, 2021
News came late Friday that Twitter plans its latest alteration to its service. The service plans to offer an “algorithm”-based timeline. Instead of the current real-time timeline offered, tweets will now be displayed based on “relevancy” and “timeliness.”
The decision is the latest in Twitter’s attempts to both boost its popularity and appease Wall Street investors. Similar moves recently include Twitter’s switching “favorites” to “likes” and a special curated “Moments” feed. However, this change is Twitter’s most radical one yet. It’s supposed to go into effect next week; it’s not clear yet whether it’ll be opt-in, but it seems likely.
While more details have yet to emerge, this move isn’t being met with any positive reactions on Twitter. Many are pointing out that lots of content creators rely on Twitter’s real time, non-curated feeds for visibility:
If twitter withers, I'm screwed professionally. I rely on it for freelance work, connections, crowdfunding. Not to mention socializing. Ugh.
— Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed) February 6, 2016
Truth. An entire economy of indie artists depends on Twitter. Serious consequences if it turns into Facebook Lite. https://t.co/WHzh4iSqQM
— Greg Pak (@gregpak) February 6, 2016
Yes, the Twitter algorithmic feed will prob have an opt out. Doesn't matter. Most folks won't opt out, so you'll lose audience.
— Greg Pak (@gregpak) February 6, 2016
Today I used Twitter to help report a story on Syrian civilians fleeing the war in Aleppo. How many of them would show up on an algorithm?
— Liam Stack (@liamstack) February 6, 2016
As for my reaction, it’s pretty similar. I use and enjoy Twitter in part because it’s not Facebook. Twitter’s real time feed ensures everything that I, and other Twitter users, post can actually be seen, without some “algorithm” determining things. Switching to a Facebook-style curated timeline undermines much of Twitter’s appeal. For Facebook, limiting who can see posts from fan pages makes it useless for anyone but either already popular users (celebrities, etc.) or those wealthy enough to pay to “boost” posts.
The continued pressure by Wall Street, critics, and Twitter itself to make the service (basically) more like Facebook is also annoying. Twitter has a sizable user base and popularity, even if it’s not as large as Facebook’s. Plus, we’ve already seen Google+ try and fail to become a popular Facebook “alternative.” (I still like Google+, but online backlash has deemed it as a “failure”.) It’s clear that barring either a major social media change or Zuckerberg buying Twitter and turning it into a full-fledged Facebook-like service, Facebook users aren’t going to jump ship to Twitter, or (apparently) any other service.
Given that, I’d rather Twitter do what it does best and play to its own strengths. This as opposed to trying to become a pale imitation of a social network that sucks battery life via its Android app, has lousy privacy settings, and plays mind games with its own users.
The above said, Twitter does need to address some of its usability problems. I suggest they offer the following:
- More robust tools and rules to deal with trolls and harassers.
- The ability to edit tweets.
- If Twitter must borrow ideas from Facebook, I’d go with the ability to set different privacy settings/levels, instead of the current “all public or all private” approach. Since Twitter already has a list feature (similar to Facebook), this idea might not sound too far-fetched. It might also help deal with some of the aforementioned harassment problems.
While I don’t expect the absolute worst to happen (the social network going under), I’m having a hard time thinking of feasible Twitter alternatives. The only alternatives I can think of are either too geeky/obscure (Identi.ca), are mocked by the public (Google+), or have failed to gain any traction despite initial hype (Ello).
How do you feel about Twitter’s timeline changes?
(Update 2/7/16): Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey stated that they’re not really changing its timeline, but will instead be basically tweaking and expanding upon the “while you were away” feature. So for now, there’s no cause for alarm. Perhaps? However, the points I wrote above on what Twitter should do to improve its service (and stop listening to Wall Street types only interested in making it an exact Facebook clone) still stand.