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#RIPTwitter Trends Over Worries Twitter Will Drop Live Timeline
Twitter will probably add a new algorithmic timeline but not replace the default chronological one. Still, users are worried.
It didn’t take long for many on Twitter to express in the most Twitter way possible that they don’t like the idea that Twitter’s live timeline might change. They tweeted using the #RIPTwitter hashtag to express disapproval, causing it to become the top Twitter trend only a few hours after the rumor emerged.
Algorithmic Timeline Rumored To Come
Friday evening, Buzzfeed broke the unconfirmed news that next week, Twitter intends to introduce an “algorithmic” timeline, one where tweets aren’t ordered by the regular first-in, last-out chronological fashion but instead where an algorithm decides what to display.
You know, like Facebook.
Twitter hasn’t commented to confirm or deny this, to BuzzFeed or any other publication that I’ve seen, including Marketing Land. We received a “no comment” when asking about it. But there’s every reason to expect it could be true, especially given that Twitter began testing this last December.
New Timeline Likely To Be Optional
There’s also every reason to believe that this will also be an optional choice for users. That’s what Josh Sternberg, a former reporter and now director of branded content for NBC News, tweeted:
Sources at Twitter tell me algorithms are strictly opt in.
— Josh Sternberg (@joshsternberg) February 6, 2016
It also makes sense given that changing the default timeline to an algorithmic one would be a huge gamble, a risk of upsetting Twitter’s millions of existing users. Some might like it, but others might not.
Postscript (2:00 p.m. ET): Major Twitter investor Chris Sacca also sees it unlikely that the live timeline will disappear:
Concern Over Changes Fuels #RIPTwitter
Certainly judging from the trending hashtag, many don’t even like the idea of it. Here are just a few examples:
Even celebrity Rob Lowe isn’t happy about it, which his tweet widely liked and retweeted.
Actor William Shatner and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda are among other celebrities who are not happy. See our related story: Celebrities Tweeting #RIPTwitter Against Twitter Timeline Change.
There’s plenty of fear that Twitter will turn into Facebook, which is clearly not what many using Twitter want. Reassurances that this might just be an option may not resonate with some.
There are plenty expressing concern about how the change from favorites and stars to likes and hearts was forced upon them. Others are concerned that longer, perhaps 10,000-character tweets, might come and change the service.
There’s also any number of people who are frustrated that with all the activity Twitter has been doing to push new products and features, it still hasn’t done the one thing many are pleading for: allow tweets to be edited after posting.
Why’s Twitter Thinking About This?
There’s a good reason why Twitter might want to add an algorithmic timeline to its service. That’s because it can be useful. There is indeed a lot of “noise” that can drown out the “signal” on the service, where it can be hard to find popular or interesting tweets if you’re just browsing for general entertainment.
In particular, there’s a strong sense in some quarters — not necessarily true — that Twitter isn’t helpful or friendly to new users, plus a thought that existing users might not engage as much because there’s so much noise.
In turn, this has investors in particular worried about Twitter, which puts pressure on Twitter to look at ways to change. That pressure isn’t going to disappear. Unfortunately, Twitter will constantly be compared to Facebook in terms of financial performance and expectations, even though the two services are fundamentally different.
Facebook is a huge social platform that has multiple brands and serves multiple needs. Twitter remains largely what Twitter has always been, a social media outlet where people talk directly to each other about others and about things in general.
Clearing Up Some Myths & Confusion
As said, it’s unlikely that Twitter will change the default timeline in the short term. Anyone assuming that really should relax. Even in the longer term, this seems unlikely. Certainly, it would be an incredibly stupid move.
As I’ve written before, Twitter is like live TV to Facebook’s DVR-style of social media. Twitter is the place where people all over the world have live conversations with each other. It’s where they watch in amazement as celebrities converse with each other (or fight with each other).
These conversations are the deep, rich content that Facebook only wishes it had, to the degree that last week, Facebook came under fire for obscuring the fact that Twitter was the source of things that eventually trended on Facebook. It seems unlikely that Twitter’s leadership would wreck its crown jewel, the conversations that only come about because of a live stream. Rather, adding in an algorithmic timeline as an option could be a good complement to that.
A related concern is from those who fear an algorithmic stream means they wouldn’t see everything from the accounts they follow, similar to the way Facebook filters things. The idea is that Twitter shows everything. The reality is that Twitter’s current timeline does not.
Yes, Twitter will show you everything from those you follow. But you only see all of that when you’re actually on Twitter — and no one watches Twitter 24 hours per day. There are things missed when you’re away, tweets you might actually want to see. A “DVR” version of Twitter as an option would be a nice way of providing this in addition to the live stream that people value.
There’s also a mistaken assumption that by making such a change, Twitter would only show people stuff that advertisers have paid for. Twitter already does this in the live stream and has done so for ages. That’s called Promoted Tweets. In short, Twitter doesn’t need an algorithm timeline to insert ads. It can and does already do that with the existing live one.
Swipe Right, Swipe Left: Solving Twitter’s Discovery Problem?
Overall, done right and as an option, introducing an algorithmic timeline could be useful for those who want to see a “best of Twitter” view for the accounts they follow. It could also be useful for new people as a way to help them feel there’s great content on Twitter, if that’s an issue.
The real challenge is whether people will use it. Twitter already has its Moments button, but its unclear how much that’s used. Would this be yet another thing that people might toggle to?
Personally, I’d love to see Twitter adopt a more “swipe” approach to its app that I’m used to with Snapchat. Put my usual live timeline on my main screen. Let me swipe right to see the algorithmic “best of” personal timeline. Let me swipe again to see only images and photos from those I follow, giving me a sort of “Twittergram” take. Let me swipe further right to tap into more personal stuff, my likes, my messages and so on.
To the left, let me discover things. Most important, let me swipe left to see what’s trending on Twitter. It’s terrible that the conversations that people are obsessed with remain hidden in the mobile app and only revealed if you click on search. Provide trends with their own screen. Let me swipe left again to reach Moments.
I’m not saying these are a cure for Twitter’s woes. Actually, I don’t think Twitter is really that broken. I think there are things it can do to improve. But Twitter’s biggest problem really is investors that want to turn it into Facebook in terms of revenue. That leads to the biggest concern its users may have: that they don’t want the unique service they love fundamentally becoming more Facebook-like in the quest for that revenue.
Postscript: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has now commented to reassure that live timelines are not going away. See our story: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Reassures Over #RIPTwitter Worries: Live Timeline Will Remain.