Game Changer? Imagine A Twitter Where You Followed Interests Rather Than User Accounts
Like other major social media sites, the content on Twitter that you see is mostly based on those you follow. But what if you threw out the follower model for an interest-based one?
If you’ve ever signed someone up for a new Twitter account, one of the challenges a new person faces — and Twitter as a company faces — is how to start. Twitter does offer suggested accounts to follow. However, a change to suggesting interests to follow rather than accounts could be a game changer.
I didn’t get to listen to the Twitter earnings call today, but looking at the reports (especially from The Street’s live blog), Twitter stressed wanting to do things in the future to make things easier for new users to get going with the service, including organizing content into topics rather than it is usual chronological real-time system.
Twitter’s Discover Tab
We’ve already had a taste of this. Twitter has a long-standing Discover area of its web site and in its mobile app where it tries to show you things that might be of interest to you, even if that content isn’t necessarily from people you follow. Consider what I get right now:
The problem with Discover is that only people who deliberately go into that area see the content within it — and generally, people tend not to leave default views. That means most people on Twitter likely tend to say in their home timeline view, where they only see things from those they follow.
For the new person, this means they might miss content that’s interesting, if they didn’t follow enough people or the right accounts to start. In turn, they might give up on Twitter, even if it has great content to offer.
Tweets & Timelines From Those You Don’t Follow
That’s one reason why earlier this month, Twitter made it official, announcing that among all the real-time tweets from people you do follow, it might also insert some tweets from those you don’t. Our previous story covers this more
Somewhat related, Twitter may also show you trends or links to topic-specific timelines within your regular feed. Consider this about the NFL that I got last week:
I’ve got no great interest in the NFL — but Twitter has great interest in perhaps getting me and others interested in it. That’s why Twitter put in a promotion to get me to view its new NFL timeline, as you can see at the top of the screenshot on the left. With a tap, the NFL timeline comes up, as shown on the right.
Interests — The Future Of Twitter?
This is where the future of Twitter may lie. Imagine if Twitter offered up interests for people to follow, rather than users, which formed the content that would flow into a home timeline. That might be a much easier concept for some to digest.
Consider the sign-up process now for a new person on Twitter. The service already will try to suggest things based on interests:
Let’s say I’m solely interested in sports. If I tick that interest box now, the suggestions I get back are for people and accounts to follow. By default, Twitter will have me follow 39 accounts it believes are interesting about sports:
The problem is that while those accounts might be sports-related, some of them might tweet off-topic. Some might also not cover all the sports stuff I’m interested in.
Now reconsider the situation above where Twitter offered up those interests to follow. What if ticking a box didn’t mean you followed particular accounts? Instead, ticking a box would mean you got tweets from anyone, tweets that Twitter’s algorithms decided were relevant.
Twitter: The Social Media Magazine?
That would be a transformative change. No longer would people have to ponder which accounts to follow. No longer would people also have to perhaps wonder if they should tweet themselves. It would allow Twitter to offer a service that’s more aligned with consuming content than figuring out how to subscribe or whether to contribute.
Twitter purists would likely rebel at the thought of this. But Twitter doesn’t have to initially make this something everyone would get.
New users might get a choice of how they want their timelines to run, where interests might be the default. They could still follow individual accounts, too. Likely, an interest-based timeline might still have a strong “real-time” ordering to it.
Existing users might continue to get the real-time, account-focused timelines they’re used to. But if they want, they could also add interests.
I think there’s an real opportunity, done right, for Twitter to broaden its appeal here. While our major social media outlets have largely been around following accounts, that’s by no means the best way they have to operate. Interests could lead the way to a next generation of social media consumption, with Twitter perhaps a launching ground for this.