Twitter's algorithmic timeline is increasing engagement, few are opting out, company says.

Surprise: People Really Like Twitter’s New “Algorithmic Timeline”

Surprise: People Really Like Twitter’s New “Algorithmic Timeline”

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 17 2016 5:15 PM

Despite Backlash, Twitter Says Its “Best Tweets” Algorithm Is a Hit

Twitter algorithmic timeline
Twitter is making this setting the default—and few are opting out.

Screenshot / Twitter.com

Remember #RIPTwitter? That was the outraged response when news leaked in February that the company was moving to an “algorithmic timeline” that would automatically select the “best tweets” to show users when they logged in.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate’s senior technology writer. Email him at will.oremus@slate.com or follow him on Twitter.

I argued at the time that the backlash was overblown. And it subsided rather quickly when Twitter explained that the feature would be relatively modest, applying only to a handful of tweets at the top of each user’s feed. It helped that the feature began as an “opt-in” setting, rather than the default. Twitter said its plan was to change it to “opt-out” over a period of weeks.   

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Resentment flared again on Thursday when some influential tweeters got notifications informing them that “show me the best tweets first” had been automatically turned on for their accounts. Several outlets reported that Twitter had quietly flipped the switch, making the “best tweets” setting the default for all users.

But that isn’t quite accurate, according to Twitter. The company told me Thursday that they have been steadily rolling out the change to users around the world for a few weeks now, just as they said they had planned to do all along. That process will continue apace until the update is live for everyone. Nothing in particular changed on Thursday, except that some people’s complaining tweets happened to catch the eye of the tech press.

Clearly some Twitter power users are still upset that the company is making a change they never asked for. That’s understandable. To Twitter’s credit, though, it isn’t doing this “sneakily:” It’s notifying every user individually as soon as it makes the change to his or her settings.

In fact, Twitter told me it has been closely studying how people are responding to the new feature, and the early returns have been overwhelmingly positive. “Since we launched the update to the timeline, we're seeing very few people choosing to opt-out of the experience,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “It's in the low single digits.”

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More importantly, those who leave it on seem to be using Twitter more. The company said it has seen gains in all of the following metrics as a result of the change:

  • Per User Favorites
  • Per User Retweets
  • Per User Replies
  • Per User Tweets
  • Daily usage

Twitter wouldn’t tell me exactly how much each of those has increased. If it’s significant, this could be a breakthrough for a company that has been pummeled by investors and the press for stagnant growth and lackluster engagement.

What we don’t know yet is whether the feature’s apparent success will help Twitter lure new users to the service—or lure back those who tried it for awhile and gave up. The company has been searching for years for ways to make Twitter more appealing to casual users without sacrificing its appeal to those who use it every day. Making “best tweets” the default might annoy some of those power users, but the ability to turn it off means it probably won’t drive many of them away. And, if they give it a chance, some might even find that they like it.

Previously in Slate:

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