Three years ago, Twitter presented one of the most controversial changes in its history. It started using a ranking algorithm to determine which tweets people would look at the top of their timeline. Until then, it had (with some exceptions) only shown users all the tweets from all of them following in reverse-chronological order.
There was an option to turn off algorithmic ranking, but it was hidden in the Twitter settings and the feature was not obvious. The default setting was called "Show the best tweets first" and unchecking it would return the timeline to the old reverse-chron system. Evidence that people fought with the setting were found every time people complained during a live event that they saw tweets from hours or days earlier.
Twitter also told me that their own research showed that many users had turned off the algorithm at some point, so forgot that they had done it and never hit it again.
But it's about to change – at least for users of the iOS app. As of Tuesday, they will be able to switch with a single press between the ranked timeline – as Twitter now calls the "home" timeline – and an unfiltered, reverse chronological. You do this by using a "spark" icon that appears at the top right of the timeline. Touch it once and your timeline will switch to the reverse crown. Touch it again and the algorithm is back. The home timeline is displayed by default when you update or log in after having gone away for a while.
Twitter's product manager, Keith Coleman, announced and explained the change in a Twitter thread on Tuesday. The company says it should be available on other platforms than iOS in January.
With the change, Twitter will retire on the old option to turn off "show the best tweets first" in your Twitter settings. It may not be any users who thought they had ridded themselves to the algorithm for good. In a briefing before the announcement, Coleman told me that the company had thought about this and built its system to "teach" people's preferences over time. So if a particular user continues to turn off the ranking algorithm, Twitter will eventually stop displaying it to them unless they've been logged out for a long time.
"Sometimes ratings are good because they help you to summarize and get a summary of what's going on," says Coleman. "There are other times where the [ranked] home timeline is not the best. Let's say it's night's choice. You're concerned about what's happened and you just want to see what's the last." Now it's easier to do the.
In the test of the new feature, Twitter says it was found that users have 2 percent more conversations than before. In particular, they interact with other users during live events as they follow, mostly because they see everyone's tweets in real time, instead of having outdated, mixed in. They have also reported higher satisfaction with Twitter in general.
I still expect a setback from people who have already told Twitter that they do not want their timeline ranked, and now Twitter must be told the same, several times. But I also expect this to help Twitter's business in the long run because all indications are that the rated timeline increases user engagement and satisfaction, even though people do not understand it. And, of course, this is a feature Twitter users have been clamoring for the page before it even introduced the ranked timeline. So maybe, for sometime it's a Twitter tweak that will go well.
Again, there will still be many people wondering why Twitter does not add an editing button or get rid of the Nazis instead.
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