Twitter Has Changed A Core Function Of How It Works, And Users Are Freaking Out

Dick CostoloGetty / Steve JenningsTwitter CEO Dick Costolo

Twitter has opened up the possibility of changing how its core function works. 

Dan Frommer at Quartz says Twitter updated the page that defines its timeline to include the following

Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don’t follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting.

Until now, your timeline was only filled with tweets from the people you follow, or retweets from those same people. In other words, you only got the content you opted-in for. 

This new disclosure opens up the possibility for Twitter to start putting tweets from people you don’t follow in your feed. 

Over the weekend, Twitter started testing this possibility. It was putting things that other people favorited in people’s feeds. So, if you follow Henry Blodget, and he favourites a tweet from Joe Weisenthal, that tweet might end up in your feed, even if you don’t follow Weisenthal. 

Twitter’s hardcore users are upset. The favourite has been a private action with undefined meaning. Sometimes, it’s a way to say hi, sometimes it’s a bookmark, sometimes it’s a virtual thumbs up. Now, Twitter is taking those favourites and saying they are the same as retweets, which is an explicit action to pass along a tweet to your followers.

Here’s what it looks like in action (via TNW):



Another example:



Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. Twitter should not treat the timeline as some sacred thing that can’t be messed with.

Twitter’s number one problem is “onboarding” new users. Onboarding is a jargony phrase that means getting people to use the product. Twitter is a great, valuable tool once you get the hang of it. But too many people sign in, follow a few accounts, and don’t really understand Twitter. Twitter wants to be able to take the wheel for these people and show them some tweets to fill up their feed and make it more valuable. 

By doing this, Twitter makes its timeline more like Facebook’s News Feed, which populates your feed based on algorithms that measure likes and interests.

Almost every time Twitter reports user metrics, they’re below expectations. And then a brain trust of people on Twitter start tweeting out how Twitter can “fix” itself. Of course, when Twitter decides to experiment with a new feature that it believes can help with engagement, the brain trust goes into a tizzy. 

Whatever. This is how it goes with social networks. Facebook has made a bunch of changes that upset users, but it’s all worked out in the long run. Twitter is going to upset some users, but if the product ends up better, with more users in the long run, then all is forgiven.

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