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FAQ: All About How Twitter’s “New Improved” Timeline Works
Twitter rolls out its new timeline that puts tweets users missed at the top of their feeds to improve engagement. Here's what we know so far.
Twitter introduced its new timeline Wednesday. Yes, that timeline. This is the big rumored change that sent #RIPTwitter trending and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey jumping in last week to try to quell users’ fears that Twitter was going to give up what makes the product unique and try to become Facebook in a quest for growth.
The Twitterverse just might let out a collective sigh of relief when the new experience rolls out. Here’s what we know so far, based on Twitter’s own blog post and Marketing Land’s briefing with Twitter’s VP of revenue product, Ameet Ranadive, about the change on Tuesday.
What Is This New Timeline?
The new timeline will show a compilation of the best tweets that users missed while they were away from the service. These tweets will appear at the top of the timeline in Twitter’s apps and on the web. “We want to make it even easier and faster for people to discover and catch up on what’s happening right now,” the company announced.
Is Only Part Of This New Timeline Actually New?
That’s right, this change doesn’t affect users’ entire Twitter feed, but a selection of tweets shown at the very top. Below the set of past “tweets they’re most likely to care about,” users will see the same chronological order of tweets they’re used to seeing. And this is the part that had users most concerned — that the entire timeline would be curated and served algorithmically, taking away the spontaneous, open nature of the platform.
How Is This Different From “While You Were Away?”
Ranadive says the new timeline is an extension of the “While you were away” timeline feature introduced about a year ago that shows a group of top tweets by followed accounts that occurred since the user last visited Twitter.
“While you were away” “laid the foundation for this change,” explained Ranadive, “We saw those changes drove improvements in engagement rates, and we have been tweaking how we determine what Tweets to feature with this new iteration of the timeline.”
Ranadive said they have been testing the timeline with some users over the last several weeks, and “engagement on organic Tweets increased significantly.”
Why Is Twitter Introducing The New Timeline When Users Got So Angry About The Idea Of It?
For one thing, what Twitter is actually rolling out is much less drastic than users and celebrities feared. There are plenty of users who don’t like “While you were away,” either by its nature — these users aren’t likely to be receptive to any kind of algorithmic interruption of the tweet stream — or because they don’t feel it has worked well for their own accounts.
The new timeline isn’t just “While you were away,” but a build-out on that idea that Twitter believes has become smarter at selecting the top tweets that people are going to be interested in — and engage with.
For heavy Twitter users, any change to the platform is an upset to routine. For newcomers and infrequent users, though, Twitter’s real-time feed can feel overwhelming, which makes it harder for Twitter to attract and keep new users coming back and engaging. Twitter is hoping to win over regular users and newcomers alike with this change.
Is The New Timeline Going To Be On By Default?
This is the other factor that is likely to appease users. The new timeline is optional and not on by default. Users will need to opt in to see the new timeline. There will be a prompt introducing it to users when they open Twitter for the first time after the change, directing them to Settings to turn it on if they want.
Will There Be Ads In The New Timeline?
There wiIl be ads in the new timeline. This is correction. We were initially told that ads would not appear in the new timeline, but ads will flow through the new timeline juast as they have in the regular chronological feed. This also means the new First View video ad spots, announced Tuesday, will appear within the new timeline. This makes much more sense.
Does This Change Favor Brands And Verified Accounts?
Twitter’s blog makes it sound that way, saying users will see “Tweets that are important to them — from their favorite athletes, musicians, politicians, or brands.” We clarified with Twitter, though, that tweets from any account can potentially appear in the new timeline. Like “While you were away,” it’s about the accounts a user follows and engages with.
What Signals Are Being Used To Choose Featured Past Tweets?
Twitter says it looks at how users interact with billions of tweets and match those behaviors against users’ past activity “to predict which Tweets they might like to see most.”
These signals include the accounts users interact with, tweets they typically engage with, their interests and what’s going on in their network. All the tweets selected for the top of the timeline will be from accounts that a user is following.
Will These Past Tweets Ever Appear Elsewhere In The Timeline?
No, not now, anyway. The automated selection will only appear at the top of the timeline.
How Often Does The New Timeline Appear?
Users will see the timeline when they first open Twitter. How often the experience shows up will depend on how frequently users log in and how much content they’ve missed.
Is There A Delineation Between Past Tweets And Chronological Tweets?
No, there is no design marker indicating when the algorithm stops and chronology takes over. “We wanted to keep the natural feel of the timeline,” said Ranadive, “We didn’t want to distract users from the flow, but they can look at time stamps” to see the transition point.
How Far Back Does The New Timeline Go?
This will depend. The oldest tweet could be from the last time users logged in, but Twitter isn’t likely to go very far back. The goal is to keep these tweets as relevant and recent as possible.
How Many Tweets Are Going To Show In The Automated Timeline?
The number of past tweets shown will also depend on the velocity of the user’s timeline — how many tweets they missed — but, Ranadive explained, “on average about a dozen tweets” could show at the top of the new timeline.
Does Moments Have Any Role In The New Timeline?
In short, no. They serve two different purposes. Moments is where the tweets about stories are collected by Twitter’s curation team for all of Twitter’s users. The new timeline is automated and individualized to the best tweets and accounts users follow. The two do complement each other, though, in helping users discover top content on Twitter.
What Does Twitter Hope To Gain From This Change?
The announcement comes, not coincidentally, on the morning of Twitter’s fourth-quarter earnings release. Twitter has been dogged by investor concerns about slow growth numbers and the fact that only a small number of loyal users are regularly active on the platform.
The new timeline is meant to help users navigate Twitter’s content while keeping true to the live nature that sets it apart from Facebook and other networks. The new timeline “Doesn’t make Twitter any less live,” said Ramadive. “Twitter is still where readers can get the live connection to culture.”
There is also a story for brands here. The new timeline will give brands more exposure for their top content and, from what Twitter has been seeing, greater levels of engagement. Several brands have already come out expressing support for the new change. For more, see our story What The New Twitter Timeline Means For Brands And Advertisers.