Blog Post

Many users are outraged at the idea that Twitter might use an algorithm to filter their feeds

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

A post we published at Gigaom on Thursday morning seems to have triggered a kind of flash fire in the Twitter-sphere. The post referred to some recent comments from CFO Anthony Noto that suggested algorithmic filtering of some kind — similar to what Facebook does — is likely coming to [company]Twitter[/company]. My @ replies feed quickly turned into a maelstrom of disgust at the idea (interrupted by the occasional supportive tweet) and so I’ve collected some of them below, and others in a Storify collection. There’s also a poll so you can tell us what you think.

Just to recap, Noto said at a financial conference on Wednesday — as reported by the Wall Street Journal — that the standard reverse-chronological order of the Twitter was “not the most relevant experience for a user,” since it might mean that relevant or interesting tweets would be missed. Putting that content in front of them regardless of when it was posted, he said, “is a way to organize that content better.”

I took that to mean that algorithmic filtering or non-chronological rejigging of the Twitter timeline was probably coming soon — something that others have also said recently, including TechCrunch — even though many users have made it clear that they don’t like algorithmic filtering, and that the non-filtered nature of Twitter is one of the main reasons they use that network instead of Facebook. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said my interpretation was “an absurd synthesis” of what Noto said, but he also didn’t deny that filtering is coming.

[tweet 507591188367417348 hide_thread=’true’]

Some responses to the post pointed out that filtering could occur under a revamped “Discover” tab, or with a toggle that would allow users to switch their default view between a filtered or unfiltered stream. But others pointed out that Facebook has such a toggle between relevance and chronological, and many users are reportedly unaware that their newsfeed is even filtered in the first place — so they never make use of that setting. As I tried to point out, the devil is in the defaults that any social service or platform provides to you, and how it is described.

Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, who has written about the difference between the algorithmic nature of Facebook’s feed and Twitter’s unfiltered experience in the context of the news from Ferguson, said in a follow-up post on Medium that she values the raw nature of the Twitter stream not just because it’s chronological but because it is effectively filtered by human beings rather than algorithms — and algorithms might miss things of value, including posts from people or sources they don’t see as important enough to highlight. Others made the same point:

[tweet 507579416268922880 hide_thread=’true’]

A number of users noted that one of the main benefits of Twitter is that they get to control what they see by choosing whom to follow, and that giving up any of that control wasn’t something they wanted to consider. Even if Twitter does provide filtering in a non-default tab, or allows for an opt-out, or is simply talking about experimenting with more algorithm-driven relevance features, it’s quite clear that for many devoted users, tampering with their following list or stream is like touching the third rail of a subway track. Here are some more responses:

[tweet 507584327841247232 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 507570604103331841 hide_thread=’true’]

As I mentioned above, I’ve collected those and others in a Storify module — including a number of positive comments from users who feel that algorithmic filtering would be helpful, especially for new users, and others who feel that the whole thing is a storm in a teapot and no one really cares whether their feed is filtered or not. And here’s the poll:

[polldaddy poll=8287403]

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / Eric Crama

10 Responses to “Many users are outraged at the idea that Twitter might use an algorithm to filter their feeds”

  1. The other aspect of the article was that Twitter was thinking of filtering the feed to “create more engaged users.” *snort*

    Twitter, you HAVE your engaged users right here, telling you NOT to do this. Will Twitter listen to the engaged users they already have?

  2. randybennett

    This is not intended as a shameless promotion, but I created my own Web-based app to help me manage my Facebook and Twitter feeds, in ways that other tools do not. For Twitter, in particular, the practice of following many people to build your own following resulted in Tweets from many people that I was less interested in. The firehose of irrelevant posts from both FB and Twitter were unmanageable, particularly for someone like me who doesn’t check those feeds multiple times a day. I wanted to be able to organize posts by people and scan through the list of folks I was most interested in hearing from. The result was, which is a publicly available tool but not a business enterprise.

  3. Eamon Walsh

    Truth is , predictive maneuvering of feeds has been around for a while. Even without FB in the picture, how often do we stop and wonder that our searches, our emails inboxes and YouTube ads seem mostly popping up the things they thing we ‘want’ or ‘need’ to see? Data is big, so enterprise entities with deep pockets are only moulding it to their benefits ( The opposite axis, of course, is that we have comparative apps to unshackle ourselves and keep refining our choices.

  4. “others pointed out that Facebook also has such a toggle”.

    I was not aware of this. As far as I know, the activity stream on the right hand side is the only place, where you see everything that’s happening in your network. Where do I find said toggle?