Twitter alters its timeline, but there's no reason to panic

Steven Loeb · February 10, 2016 · Short URL:

Users will have the option to see a set of more relevant Tweets at the top if they want to

Ahead of its fourth quarter and full year earnings release on Wednesday, Twitter has decided to upend the service as we know it! Nothing will ever be the same again!

Ok, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it is true that the company is making some changes to one of its most ingrained features: the chronological timeline.

Users have now been given the ability to change their timeline to display those that they are "most likely to care about," rather than just the most recent, the company announced.  Much like Facebook, which gives you the option to see the most recent stories or "top stories," the feature is opt-in, which should calm at least some of the people down who were freaking out about this proposed change when word leaked last weekend.

It works like this: users turn on the feature after not using Twitter for a bit, and the service with use its algorithm to determine which Tweets that person was most likely to want to have seen. They will appear at the top, "still recent and in reverse chronological order."  After that, the rest of the timeline will look exactly the same. Users can pull new Tweets to the top any time they want. 

There's no word on just how many Tweets will appear at the top of the timeline, though it would seem that that would depend on how long its been since it was last refreshed. 

According to Twitter, these changes will have a positive effect on how people use the service.

"We've already seen that people who use this new feature tend to Retweet and Tweet more, creating more live commentary and conversations, which is great for everyone," Mike Jahr, Senior Engineering Manager at Twitter, wrote. 

This is the boldest move yet from Jack Dorsey, who has made it is his mission to make Twitter less intimidating for new users, who the company has had a hard time bringing on for the past couple of years. Dorsey has specifically mentioned making changes to the timeline.

"You will see us continue to question our reverse chronological timeline and all of the work it takes to build one by finding and following accounts through experiences like why you are away and Project Lightning which launches this fall," Dorsey said in the second quarter earnings call.

"We continue to show a questioning of our fundamentals in order to make the product easier and more accessible to more people.” 

I hope that people take a rational view about what this change meant. When word broke last weekend that Twitter was getting set to alter the timeline, though, people who use Twitter had a meltdown, as they often do. Even professional writers got in on the action, basically calling it the end of Twitter as we know it.

Despite all the concern, Twitter has not done away with the chronological timeline; it just kind of tweaked it. And its not even something that users have to see if they don't want to. So there's no reason to get upset.

No, the real challenge will be when Twitter, inevitably, gets rid of the 140-character limit, perhaps all the way up to 10,000 characters, which is more than 70 times what it is currently. When that happens, Twitter as we currently know it will be changed forever. For now, it's basically the same as it always was.

Investors so far seem happy with these changes, sending the stock up 5 percent, to $15.12 a share. 

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