Twitter’s controversial timeline change is officially rolling out on Wednesday, and the most noteworthy thing about it is how unremarkable it is.
Twitter users who decide to turn on the new feature starting Wednesday will find an extra batch of tweets sitting at the top of their timelines, showcasing important tweets they might have missed while they had lunch or went to the bathroom.
In other words, it’s basically a revamped version of the “While You Were Away” feature that Twitter introduced last year.
Twitter’s plans to change its timeline caused a kerfuffle last week after BuzzFeed reported that the social networking service planned to use algorithms to select and arrange the tweets that users see, a big change from the traditional reverse chronological stream of tweets that has long defined Twitter.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was forced to take to Twitter to calm the waters, promising that the company was not planning to “reorder timelines.”
With Wednesday’s new feature, the main timeline will remain the same as it was. The only difference will be a handful of older tweets (anywhere from a few tweets to a few dozen tweets) that appear at the top of the timeline. These are tweets that Twitter thinks you’ll want to see based on your past activity, even if the tweets were posted earlier in the day. The tweets are only from people that you already follow. And the special batch of tweets will be arranged in reverse-chronological order, to ensure that conversations and tweetstorms aren’t messed up.
The idea is to make sure that users see the best stuff on Twitter; the stuff they are likely to engage with, whether by retweeting or responding. Twitter says it has seen in increase in tweets and retweets in its tests, though it did not specify how much.
That’s especially important to Twitter as its user growth has stalled and its stock has lost roughly three-quarters of its value. Wall Street is worried that the service’s best days are behind it and that users are increasingly migrating to newer apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
The company’s fourth-quarter earnings report due after Wednesday’s market close should provide an important update on the state of Twitter’s business.
Some investors think Dorsey needs to make radical changes to the product so as to rekindle user growth. But as the uproar over the rumoured timeline change made clear, that will not be an easy job.
Twitter said that users will initially need to opt-in to the service by going into settings and selecting “show me the best tweets first” within the timeline section. In the coming weeks Twitter says it will automatically turn the feature on for users (although users will have the option to turn it off).
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