Twitter

Dorsey assures Twittersphere algorithm-based displays not on the way

Life
(Image: IDGNS)

8 February 2016

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey has rubbished reports circulated over the weekend that the social network was moving from a real time to an algorithm-based model for displaying tweets.

According to a BuzzFeed report published Friday, the company had plans to unveil an algorithmic timeline “as soon as next week” that would primarily show tweets on topics that Twitter thinks you’d want to see.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to the approach Facebook takes with its News Feed, which shows posts from friends based on an algorithm that tries to determine if you’d be interested in the contents of that post. Predictably, a tweet storm erupted using the hastag #RIPTwitter as users vented their frustration.

It’s no secret that Twitter had been toying with the idea of a non-chronological timeline for some time. In May 2014, then-CEO Dick Costolo said Twitter was experimenting with a timeline algorithm. In October of that year, the company formally announced that it had been testing alternate timelines, including ones that make use of algorithms.

Dorsey responded to the rumours with a series of posts last Saturday. “We never planned to reorder timelines next week,” he tweeted. “Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who & what you follow. And Twitter is here to stay! By becoming more Twitter-y.”

Dorsey went on to cite Twitter’s “While you were away” feature as an example of the sort of work it’s been doing, and said the company is “going to continue to refine it to make Twitter feel more, not less, live!”

The impact of a non-linear timeline
Nonlinear timelines have their pros and cons. An algorithmic timeline may make it easier for new and casual users to follow Twitter and sort their way through the barrage of tweets that users publish on a daily basis. On the other hand, an algorithmic timeline is less useful in times of disaster or in disseminating news and information – something Twitter’s real-time communication approach does well.

Twitter already includes some features that call attention to certain tweets. Certain tweets on users’ profile pages appear in a larger text size, and a ‘While you were away’ feature shows a handful of tweets you may have missed since you last visited Twitter. Also, search results default to a ‘top tweets’ view that surfaces highlights of tweets on whatever you searched for rather than all tweets (the live tab will show you all such tweets in chronological order).

Dorsey’s statement seems to put the kibosh on an imminent major algorithmic retooling of Twitter, but doesn’t rule out the possibility that we’ll see more recommendations or highlighted tweets in the future. For now, it looks like the Internet can relax.

Nick Medati, IDG News Service & TechCentral Reporters

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