Twitter announced this morning that they have added a new feature to our favorite 140-character mini blog platform – an algorithmic timeline.
“Better buckle your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night. “ – Margot Channing
Cries of social media injustice fired up on the spot from hardcore Twitter users. Just check out all of the replies to Twitter’s announcement tweet today.
Unofficially reported last week, the speculation and vitriol began even before anyone had seen the timeline in action.
“Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!” – Dr. Peter Venkman
Typical. I’m going to say what I always say to large crowds of people freaking out – everyone just needs to calm down. Here’s why:
1. The algorithmic timeline is an optional feature you do not have to use.
2. Twitter is free.
What Is It?
Let’s put out the fire in our collective hair and stop to learn what this feature will actually do. According to Twitter, the algorithmic timeline will attempt to place tweets that it thinks you will most appreciate at the top of your home Twitter feed. It will make those judgments based on people you follow, tweets you post, tweets you interact with, lists you’ve made, as well as other content from accounts you don’t follow that are popular or relevant. That means tweets may appear out of order; and you may miss some tweets that weren’t deemed relevant to you.
I Think I Love It
Before this new timeline feature hit the streets, Twitter had quietly introduced the “while you were away” feature. Mainly for heavier Twitter users, it shows you important tweets you missed while you were off of Twitter for a few hours or a day. It recovers tweets, from people and topics you regularly interact with, that would have slipped so far down your timeline you might never have seen them.
The first time I saw this in my feed I was pleasantly surprised. I’m already dependent on the “while you were away” for helping catch up between Twitter sessions.
The new algorithmic timeline will work similarly. It will help you get straight to the topics you want to chat about and the people you want to hear from. In this way, the adjusted timeline can save you time if you are getting onto Twitter for a quick catch up on what’s happening. If you follow a large number of accounts, you know how valuable this can be.
But, I Might Not
Of course, no algorithm or artificial intelligence is ever going to truly know what you want to see in your timeline. The great thing about Twitter is all the good, the bad, the weird, the funny, the lame ads, and the generally bizarro fashion of human conversation. Manipulating the timeline takes away from the original “open agora” experience that Twitter has always provided.
Most people on Twitter want to see “whatever,” to learn something new. If you want to see specific information, you check out the feed on one of your curated lists, search on a hashtag or tune into the account of someone you follow.
Yes, this new algorithmic timeline sounds strangely similar to Facebook’s news feed algorithm that was applied a couple of years ago. I have never liked Facebook’s annoying newsfeed algorithm, placing the “best posts” at the top of my feed. Just because I may like a lot of posts from a particular brand or personality, in my feed I still want to see what all of my friends are doing in a chronological timeline. No one wants Twitter to be Facebook.
From a marketing point of view, this could be heaven or hell. The algorithmic timeline will continue to feature sponsored and promoted tweets. However, if as a brand you’re trying to make waves through organic engagement, this may push your tweets way down the line in feeds of users who have not engaged with you previously.
Judge for Yourself
All that being said, if you don’t see any changes to your timeline yet, don’t worry. Twitter is doing a roll out in waves today and likely into tomorrow. Just keep checking your Settings menu; look for the Timeline check box under the Content section.
The new Twitter timeline algorithm is optional. For this introductory period, you must opt to turn on the feature yourself. However, Twitter has noted that in the next several weeks it will turn on the feature for all users. A note will appear in your timeline about the update.
Give it a try for a day or two. If you don’t like it, you can just turn it off. Don’t freak out.