London's transport regulator is turning its back on Twitter for real-time updates

Here’s a strange consequence of Twitter’s recent big update that could prove worrying for the social network: Transport for London (TfL), London’s transport regulator, is stopping sending real-time updates via tweets to keep users informed about transport information.

TfL currently operates a series of Twitter accounts for different London Underground lines, and other transport services. They keep you posted on line closures, delays, and other potential issues with London’s transport infrastructure.

But, TfL says on its official blog that it’s pivoting away from this model. Where it previously provided “real-time service updates and news” for each individual line, it will now only provide “news and alerts for major disruption.” (We saw the news over on Engadget.)

The reason? Twitter’s recent move to introduce an algorithmically sorted timeline, rather than simply presenting the most recent tweets first. TfL says the change will affect its ability to deliver real-time news to users.

“Since 2012 we’ve been using Twitter to share ‘live’ transport information, and the platform’s chronological feeds meant we were able to distribute information within minutes of receiving it, with alerts generated by our systems along with the help of our partners, such as the Metropolitan Police,” the blog post says.

“However, in the last few years, Twitter has introduced various changes to the way it serves content to its users, and these have impacted upon our ability to reliably deliver these real-time status updates to our followers. Now selected content on Twitter is shown out of sequence, we will reduce the amount of minor alerts and focus on providing up-to-the-minute alerts for major issues, as well as a renewed focus on customer service across our various accounts.”

Twitter has introduced the algorithmic feed in an attempt to kickstart user growth. The platform is failing to attract new users, and its stock is plummeting.

But prior to its launch, many users feared that the switch from chronological to algorithmic would hurt one of Twitter’s strongest features — it’s immediacy and sense of real-time conversation.

CEO Jack Dorsey responded to the concerns on Twitter, writing that “Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who & what you follow. And Twitter is here to stay! By becoming more Twitter-y … I *love* real-time. We love the live stream. It’s us. And we’re going to continue to refine it to make Twitter feel more, not less, live!”

The new timeline, which debuted earlier this week, is a mix of chronological and algorithmic — users see “best” tweets when they open the site/app, and it then reverts to most-recent-first.

“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,” Twitter senior engineering manager Mike Jahr explained in a blog post. “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.”

The idea is that this hybrid approach doesn’t damage the social network’s immediacy.

But it must be worrying for Twitter that businesses like TfL believe (correctly or incorrectly) that “only our high impact and important updates would be likely to reach customers in a useful and relevant way” — and are withdrawing from real-time tweeting as a result.

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