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The Much-Feared ‘Algorithmic Timeline’ Is Here, and, Well, Twitter Isn’t Dead Yet

Squawk on the Street
Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter. Photo: CNBC/Getty Images

After months of speculation and a weekend of hysteria, the long-feared Twitter “algorithmic timeline” is here, and it’s … not a big deal, really? In a post to its official blog today, the platform announced a new option that would be made available to users today: “Show me the best tweets first.”

Here’s how it works. You flip on the feature in your settings; then when you open Twitter after being away for a while, the Tweets you’re most likely to care about will appear at the top of your timeline – still recent and in reverse chronological order. The rest of the Tweets will be displayed right underneath, also in reverse chronological order, as always. At any point, just pull-to-refresh to see all new Tweets at the top in the live, up-to-the-second experience you already know and love.

If you want to turn it on yourself, go to the settings in your app or on the website and check the “Show me the best tweets first” box under the timeline or content settings. (As of publishing, the feature was only live in the most updated version of the mobile apps.)

So, to recap, the “algorithmic timeline” that caused such consternation among Twitter’s power users that #RIPTwitter was a trending topic this weekend is … an option to have Twitter place a handful of algorithmically chosen tweets at the top of your timeline?

Twitter’s spent the last several years cultivating a base of highly engaged and highly visible power users. This has made it, for better and for worse, “relevant,” and created a spirited and sometimes-engrossing culture of discussion, debate, and tweeting “fuck me daddy” at the pope. At the same time, that culture, led by a set of design choices on the product level, is intimidating and confusing for new and infrequent users. This leaves the company in a catch-22: To attract new users, it will need to change the platform; but changing the platform will alienate the power users that give Twitter relevance and, well, a reason to exist.

The botched announcement, and debut, of this minor new option — an expansion of the already present, and seemingly well-liked, “while you were away” feature that was turned into an 18-hour keen on the platform itself — is a good object lesson in this trouble. As a self-hating power user, I tend to feel that CEO Jack Dorsey should say damn the journalists and activists and tech workers and muck with the product. There’s no way Twitter can get worse!

The ‘Algorithmic Timeline’ Is Here and It’s Fine