There’s a brand new scandal in Twitter-land: the company might be shaking up users’ feeds in the near future to make the social network behave more like Facebook.
That bombshell came from an interview that Twitter CFO Anthony Noto gave at the Citi Global Technology Conference in New York yesterday. In addition to hinting at new group chat and improved search features, Noto said that the company is looking into ways to curate users’ timelines beyond just exposing them to a firehose of all the tweets from people they follow.
“We’re going to do all of these methodically. We test and make sure we understand what the implications are,” he said. “Individual users are not going to wake up one day and find their timeline completely ranked by an algorithm.”
It’s an important move for the social network, which is facing massive pressure from investors to increase its user growth quarter over quarter. So far the company has found that difficult to achieve, and has laid some of the blame at the feet of Twitter’s complexity. By filtering the feed that users see algorithmically, especially if they only log on to the Twitter website, it’s possible for the company to maximize how useful the service is to someone who checks Twitter infrequently.
After all, the reverse chronological order layout of Twitter’s current service is great for people who can spend their day repeatedly checking in with other people’s tweets, but people who only want to spend a few minutes reading twitter every day would find it less useful.
Of course, if that comes at the expense of the behavior that enfranchised users know and love, Twitter may have another problem on its hands. That’s why many of Twitter’s power users were crying foul following the news. Here’s a sampling from my own timeline:
Imagine what a Twitter-curated timeline would have looked like during Ferguson. Imagine the voices not deemed "relevant" by an algorithm.
— Heather McLendon (@hemclendon) September 4, 2014
Us: Hey Twitter, can you help stop all the awful harassment?
Twitter: How about instead we totally ruin our servicehttp://t.co/iToS55XT49
— Kirk Hamilton (@kirkhamilton) September 4, 2014
There is already an algorithm that manages your Twitter feed.
— Dave Pell (@davepell) September 4, 2014
Even if traditional Twitter users dislike the changes that the company makes, there may not be much for them to do about it. App.net, a social network and platform that was created in response to another change by Twitter, recently ceased active development because of a lack of interest in the project.