Twitter needs an algorithm

Last week’s #RIPTwitter ruckus, sparked by the news that they may be interesting an algorithmic timeline soon, really got under my skin. Time and time again I went to the app to construct a tweet that would perfectly illustrate my thoughts on the matter, and each time canceled it before sending it out. More was needed to be said than could be written in 140 characters.

First I should say that I haven’t used Twitter in any conventional capacity for about a year at this point. Despite its incredible value as the zeitgeist for literally everything in the world, it was a massive time sink, distraction, and UX nightmare (emphasizing I mean UX, not UI). While there’s immense value in the real-time nature of the network, actually staying in touch with it all is not practical unless you work in news or basically have nothing else to do. Instead of watching the tweets fly by me in real time, or feeling the constant desire to log back in, I muted all of the accounts I follow and use Nuzzel to at least see what links are popular. This made Twitter increase in value for me, despite using it dramatically less.

Each time there’s an inkling of a major change to Twitter, its loyal users absolutely revolt. This time, the mere suggestion that an algorithm be used instead of pure reverse chronology for displaying the timeline caused people to get their pitchforks out. But I would argue that it’s absolutely necessary for Twitter to make this change — both for the growth of the network with new users, as well as the overall quality of content and connections. Facebook has never been afraid of making bold changes and then scaling them back if the experiment went too far. My fear is that Twitter feels like all the power users would make too much of a fuss if their precious, nearly 10 year old experience, were dramatically altered (even if for the better).

I’ll pose some simple questions for those of you that may question the value of an algorithmic timeline:

  1. Do you feel confident that you see 90% of the important tweets that are sent in your network on a daily basis?
  2. If you answered yes, how about we pose it a different way: if you logged off for a few days, are you confident that you could come back and see even half of the most important tweets sent since you were gone?
  3. Taking the example of a keynote live tweeting, if you weren’t able to look at Twitter till well after the event was over, would you rather scroll all the way back to the moment the keynote started, or would you rather get the highlights fed to you at the very top of your timeline?

If Twitter were to provide an algorithmic timeline that could allow me to see the most important to content in 5 minutes or less, I’m very certain that I’d return to using the service more. My own use case aside, I’m sure the experience as a whole would be better and less confusing to new users. And do we honestly think that they’d not allow for a pure, “unadulterated” timeline as an option? That’s ridiculous. It just won’t be the default anymore, and that’s a good thing.