Some Fear the Death of Twitter As Company Considers Algorithmic Timeline

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Twitter users, clearly terrified at the prospect of being forced to read about anything popular or relevant. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

#RIPTwitter was trending across the social media world Friday and Saturday following a report that Twitter would be changing to an algorithmic timeline next week — i.e., users would no longer be shown all the tweets, in reverse chronological order, from all the people they follow, but would instead get a Facebook-like feed of content determined by an algorithm bent on showing them what it thinks they’d like to see. BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz reported the news Friday night, and noted that while the company has been testing the feature with a small group of users, it’s not yet clear whether they will force everyone to use the new feed — though subsequent reports have indicated that the new feature will be opt-in. (UPDATE: According to Twitter’s CEO, there is no change planned for next week.)

Regardless, hard-core Twitter users are not happy with the prospective change, which the decade-old company has previously talked about as a way to combat the site’s signal-to-noise ratio problems, especially for the majority of more casual users who don’t spend their entire day glued to the service like the vocal minority of power-users (including, by the way, the vast majority of people working in media and thus thinking and writing about Twitter).

Put more simply, the new timeline would mean that instead of bombarding users — especially new users — with every tweet from every person they follow, an algorithm would show them a reduced selection of customized content and promote relevant and popular tweets, both from whomever they follow as well as from across the entire site. 

The new timeline isn’t the only change the service has been toying with, especially following founder Jack Dorsey’s recent return to the helm of the somewhat-struggling company. In July, he said that Twitter would have to question its fundamentals “to make the product easier and more accessible to more people.” In November, the “Favorite” button gave way to the “Like” button and last month the company indicated it was considering the removal of the service’s 140-character limit on tweets (raising it to as high as 10,000 characters, and leading to an earlier round of Twitter death announcements). Also, with newly added features like “Moments” and “While You Were Away,” the company has already been showing algorithm-curated content to users. 

So is this really #RIPTwitter? Some employees at the company are clearly getting annoyed with that presumption:

And if the new feature is opt-in, it’s unlikely power users will have as much to complain about, all while the company will be able to offer an arguably more approachable product to new and casual users as it tries to grow and please its stock-market masters, as well as, you know, stay in business. If a majority of the site’s users do opt in, however, the change could have massive implications for social marketing campaigns, as Twitter may then, as Facebook has, make marketers and brands pay to get their content past the algorithm to those users who have chosen to follow them.

UPDATE: Jack Dorsey responded to the hysteria on Saturday and indicated that “Regarding #RIPTwitter: I want you all to know we’re always listening. We never planned to reorder timelines next week.” Dorsey went on to profess his and Twitter’s love of the real-time, full live feed, though also indicated the company would continue to refine it, which, as the Verge notes, indicates some kind of different experience is likely still on the way.

Twitter Considers Launching Algorithmic Timeline