You’re seeing random Twitter favorites in your timeline because you keep refreshing your stream

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo Credit: Asa Mathat/D: All Things Digital

We finally have an answer to the question that has plagued Twitter users for weeks now: Why are the tweets favorited by people I follow showing up in my timeline?

On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted an explanation:

He went on to say that when you refresh twice, it’s a signal from the user that they want more content. “If we don’t have any, we show fav’s from follows,” Costolo tweeted.

In other words, “favorited” tweets are filler content to satisfy the snacking urges of anyone whose Twitter stream is sleepy. Don’t refresh your stream constantly, and you won’t see such favoriting activity.

It’s another attempt by the company to appeal to new Twitter users who may not follow enough people to stay engaged in the site. The problem is that it also winds up being filler content for the most active Twitter users, who refresh their feed constantly. And those users are annoyed that largely irrelevant tweets are cluttering up their experience.

It’s one more growing pain in Twitter’s efforts to scale its community and content beyond its current adopters — and at a speed that will please investors. Twitter is contemplating a variety of ways to change the content consumption experience for new users to make it more intuitive, including potentially introducing an algorithm that surfaces specific types of tweets, operating much like Facebook’s newsfeed instead of like a real-time feed the way it currently exists.

Such changes alter the fundamental nature of the Twitter experience, and as the favorites-as-retweets experiment shows, older users will fight to keep Twitter the way it is.

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