Pando

Twitter launches the algorithmic timeline change it said it wasn't planning

By Sarah Lacy , written on February 10, 2016

From The Facepalm Desk

Are you the last remaining person on earth who thinks Jack Dorsey is some Jeff Bezos like figure, with a plan for navigating Twitter through a sea of uncertainty, earplugs blocking the haters, trusting his infallible product gut and damn the consequences?

If so, I offer you two Tweets, four days apart:

From February 6…

And from today…

“Reordering timelines? Poppycock! Never planned it! Don’t know where that rumour came from!”

[Calendar flips forward four days...]

“...oh… reordering timelines? Yeah! In the works all along! Big change! Yuuuuge!”

This latest stumble -- assuring users that timelines weren’t changing, and then changing them --  could well erode whatever was left of power users’ trust, without giving any meaningful bump to the stock in the meantime.

But here’s the irony: Once you get past the bungled roll-out, algorithmic feeds aren’t such a bad idea.

In fact, product-wise, this may be the only thing I’ve seen the company do that aims to solve it’s core problem: Getting a more mainstream audience. Moments-- a warmed over mashup of Yahoo’s homepage and Buzzfeed-- wasn’t going to do that. 10,000 character Tweets weren’t going to do that…. if anything that would make Twitter’s quick scan of the news suddenly feel like diving into War and Peace.

And even the splashy board appointment of Shonda Rhimes-- while a huge win for diversity and a huge name--  will just play to the strength Twitter already had in splashing hashtags all over TV. Twitter’s lock on television already failed to make the site mainstream, what more can the queen of Thursday nights do, aside from hopefully give some common sense advice from someone outside the tech bubble?

But algorithmic feeds-- which yes, power users freak out about-- make Twitter seem more approachable. The biggest problem, as Josh Elman and others have noted, is that curating a great Twitter following is a shit load of work. If you cave to the social pressure of adding everyone who adds you, you wind up with a garden full of weeds. Scanning it is unsatisfying and if you leave it open on your browser the growing counter of unread Tweets starts to feel like a to-do box. You want a perfect mix of people who are great thinkers and curators, Following any more than 300 people, in my experience, is completely unmanageable if you are actually looking at even 30% of your feed every day. Otherwise you give up and just check notifications.

So, best case, you don’t put in the time to sculpt your feed, and you walk away. Worst case, you do, but it limits how many people you will follow because you have to keep that garden weed-free and just the way you’ve organized it.

Lists were an attempt around this, but they never really worked as Twitter implemented them. And Twitter seems out of any other ideas. Through testing “while you were out” -- now one of my favorite features -- the company has shown that auto-curation works pretty well. And they’ve wisely made curated timelines optional for existing users.

My hope: They continue to allow existing users to toggle back and forth. I suspect most power users will want the option to see everything -- but on a busy day, the ability to see a longer “what you missed” is a plus.