Blog Post

Twitter CFO says a Facebook-style filtered feed is coming, whether you like it or not

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

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

Earlier this year, when Twitter released its quarterly financial results, CEO Dick Costolo was asked whether the platform would ever implement a Facebook-style filtering algorithm, he hedged his answer by saying he wouldn’t “rule it out.” According to some recent comments from chief financial officer Anthony Noto, however, the company is doing a lot more than not ruling it out — it sounds like a done deal. And while that might help improve engagement with new users, it could increase the dissatisfaction some older users feel with the service.

For a hint of what some of that dissatisfaction might look like, check out some of the responses from Twitter users to this idea.

At a financial conference on Wednesday in New York, the CFO provided some hints about the feature roadmap that new head of product Daniel Graf — who came to Twitter from Google in April — has in mind for the service, a list that includes better search and a move into group chat. But he also suggested that the traditional reverse-chronological user stream could become a thing of the past, as the company tries to improve its relevance. As the Wall Street Journal put it:

Twitter’s timeline is organized in reverse chronological order… but this “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user,” Noto said. Timely tweets can get buried at the bottom of the feed if the user doesn’t have the app open, for example. “Putting that content in front of the person at that moment in time is a way to organize that content better.”

An unfiltered stream is a core feature

This might seem like a small thing, similar to Twitter’s move to insert tweets that other people have favorited into a user’s stream if there aren’t any recent tweets to show them. But as the controversy over that feature shows, the Twitter chronological-order model is at the core of what the service offers for many users — and a number of them have specifically said it is the thing they like most about Twitter when compared to Facebook.

[tweet 494240846015782912 hide_thread=’true’]

The most recent example of how stark the differences can be between a filtered feed and an unfiltered one was the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. and how that showed up so dramatically on Twitter but was barely present for most users of Facebook. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci noted, that kind of filtering has social consequences — and journalism professor Emily Bell pointed out that doing this makes Facebook and Twitter into information gatekeepers in much the same way newspapers used to be.

The impetus for Twitter to filter is obvious: the service needs to show growth in both number of users and engagement in order to satisfy investors, and finding relevant content as a new user can be a challenge, which is why the company recently updated its so-called “on-boarding” process.

The reverse-chronological feed has already been tampered with by features like Twitter’s conversation threading, which connects responses in an attempt to show users an entire discussion — another feature that some users love and others hate. But moving to a totally filtered “relevance” approach would be a much more significant move, even if Twitter provided an opt-out or allowed users to turn it off. And it could change the nature of the service dramatically.

[polldaddy poll=8287403]

83 Responses to “Twitter CFO says a Facebook-style filtered feed is coming, whether you like it or not”

  1. Steve Raymond

    This is the problem with going public, you have the CFO driving product decisions. Somebody will launch an original twitter copycat immediately after they do this, to some success.

  2. theraven11879

    Be nice if they offered it as an option, like so: [A] Click here for the Classic Twitter you know and love. [B] Click here for the mucked-up dog’s breakfast ruined curated Twitter nobody asked for and nobody wants.

  3. Jody Raines

    What a social media nightmare for those who use Twitter as a communication and information gathering channel for #SMEM. This is a terrible idea and counter to the way that Twitter has evolved. Why do they feel they need to mess with the pure information that bubbles up? If I want a Facebook type stream, I’ll look at Facebook. I wish Twitter was true to itself.

  4. Not sure why Twitter wants to turn itself into Facebook. Facebook sucks. I deleted my account there. Looks like I’ll be deleting my Twitter account, too.

    If anyone with some intelligence and understanding of why we liked Twitter in the past decides to start up a version of Twitter like it used to be (when it was useful and efficient) let us know. We’ll be there.

  5. It depends how Twitter implement this. If they start supressing tweets like Facebook do, and fill your timeline with celebrity nonsense and stupid memes, they’ll get all the backlash they deserve.

    If all they do is tweak the sequence of tweets for users who haven’t logged in for several hours and days so multiply-favourited or retweeted content is pushed higher up the stream, and they leave third-party apps alone, it may work.

    I abandoned the Twitter web client in favour of Tweetdeck once inline images came in.

  6. This is definitely a step down from what Twitter used to be. The conversation links were bad enough, but filtered feeds? — I might as well stop following people. And if that is the case, what’s the point using Twitter at all?

  7. Twitter should be careful with any changes that might affect its ability to relay breaking news, which is currently one of its best value propositions, and a key differentiator from Facebook.

    An algorithm needs a certain amount of data to accumulate before it can recognize that something new is important. My reverse-chronological feed is pretty amazing at surfacing news before it shows up as “trending”.

    • Kathleenkelly

      Your twitter feed is not what your thousands of followers tweet, it’s what the people you follow tweet. Following is not reciprocal. The beauty of twitter is that it’s a highly curated stream. If you’re following 1000s of people then you’re doing it wrong.

    • I am assuming you mean following thousands of people. People following you don’t affect your feed.
      The easy way to fix this is simply to not follow everyone you see, and only follow people you want to read tweets from.

  8. TheDawgMiner

    To me “Filtered content” is minor censorship. I can think for myself & I sure don’t need investors or advertisers telling me what i should view or HOW I should view it. If they want to know more about us users & how to improve twitter it’s called READING tweets & complaints NOT stock market analysis tickers. #ListenToTheUsers

  9. How about I just delete my Twitter. I come to Twitter to use it like it is. I follow a few set of people. So I don’t have to “worry I will miss a post”. I don’t need ads and the same post at the top over and over, trying to tell me what I should be reading. That is some serious big brother bull right there.

  10. I only recently joined Twitter because I have come to hate Facebook with a passion and stopped using it months ago. Looks like I’ll be saying bye-bye to twitter too if they follow through with this.

  11. What I would really like would be for twitter to start the feed at the last message I saw last time I was on, and then let me scroll up until I’m up to date.

    A very old version of TweetDeck used to do exactly that.

  12. Kevin Stern

    This is the problem of investors. You need them for their money, but then they get a say in things, and they have no idea what they’re doing. And they demand a greater return, causing you to make stupid choices that cost you money and alienate your clients..

  13. Kevin Stern

    As long as it’s not like FB’s Top stories. A feature which prevents you from seeing anything new and relevant being posted by your friends. As well as being entirely pointless. Sorry, FB, but a lame joke from 17 hours ago is not a top story to me. Especially having seen it 2 minutes after it was originally posted.

    This also sounds like a great way to force spoilers onto people. On twitter, and an east Coaster tweets who the killer is, and now I know. before even watch the show. Twitter will have to start banning users who tweet spoilers prior to 24 hours after a show airs, then.

    And an op out better work better than FB’s switch to most recent, as they always resets to the useless top stories option. Thankfully, I found an extention for Firefox that keeps Top Stories shut off for good.

    • Thanks Kevin never thought to look for a FireFox app for this, hopefully it will work for me, one wasn’t available because it couldn’t be installed on version 31.0, but I tried the other I could find.

  14. The moment Twitter starts “enhancing” my feed, then it is prone to be gamed.

    Right now, Twitter is immune to optimization strategies, because Arthur Newbie has just as much a chance to be at the top of my list as Robert Scoble or Guy Kawasaki.

    If “relevance” starts getting baked into the system, then you can expect the marketers to sweeten the formula any way they can: buying followers will actually have a benefit; botnet clicks will expand the reach of those who can pay; and the spirit of real meritocracy will vaporize with the elimination of the chronological equalizer.

  15. Joe Williams

    Every site that provides advertisements based on a profile of you is going to want to filter results; it’s a basic money making feature. That’s why I use DuckDuckGo instead of Google. I can look up opinions and views different from my own to better understand those I disagree with, or at the very least make sure my search results aren’t just showing me what they think I want to see.

  16. Frank Haynes

    Facebook stinks. Facebook obfuscates information under the guise of “helping” users find things–yeah, the things Facebook sees fit to provide. That’s not a model that engages me.

    *I* decide what I want. If you can’t provide that, I’ll find an outfit that will, or maybe I’ll provide it myself. Competition is a great thing!

    • I expect they will do that — but will they keep reverting to the filtered feed and forcing you to manually change back, the way Facebook does? Research shows a lot of users don’t even know that Facebook filters their feed at all.

          • I quit usin Facebook a few months ago when they started screwing with the Timeline. Unless you are on it all of the time, it is completely useless. Twitter will be the next to die like the dinosaur.

          • stormkite

            As opposed to personal accounts, which reach some two to three percent of friends and followers and never more than that.

            It’s interesting watching Twitter follow Facebook down the sewer drain.

            • I’ve given up on Facebook and started using Twitter again because I couldn’t deal with the filter anymore. Facebook won’t let me talk to anyone….not even close friends I want to talk to. …without me having to go to individual pages.

              At least I can argue with complete strangers on Twitter. At least then I feel somewhat “connected”.

    • whaleriot

      I do hope that twitter keeps the completely unfiltered feed option, but I don’t find that option to the be the case in Facebook, everyday I change it to most recent and it’s still filtered content, not everything that everyone that I like or pages that I like have posted. I’ve only tested this by looking at the times and looking at individual pages and seeing that they have posts that I am not being shown in that time frame on my most recent feed. It’s funny, too, because I just took a Twitter ad seminar that Twitter offered and their first selling point of Twitter was that they don’t filter their feeds “like Facebook does”

    • FB claims to offer both, but it still hides many posts. I miss a lot of things posted BY MY PARTNER because they just don’t show up in my FB feed. I have to go to her wall to see the post itself.

      This is a constant cause of annoyance for me. Both on FB and Twitter I filter things myself by who I choose to follow and not follow. Their algorithms for ads are constantly completely wrong about me, and its constant switching back to the sorted views annoy the crap out of me, hiding the vast majority of what I wish to read.

      The only reason I’m even still on FB is because it’s one of the few ways to keep in contact with so many people. I don’t use the newsfeed much anymore because it’s made itself so unreliable that it’s not useful anymore. I don’t want the same to happen to twitter.

      • electropig

        Faceberia “claims” to be a “social network.” It also “claims” to be an investment.

        Fact is, they’re the most anti-social thing online, and the ONLY reason their user count is so high is that they NEVER allow the “DELETION” or user accounts.

        Zuckerberg is fraud all around.

        • Janelle Wiley

          Twitter would become a nearly useless dinosour like Facebook if it changes how feeds are delivered. (The reason I use Facebook is because family and particular contacts are there: I can navigate to their page if I can’t find them in my feed.)

          The reason I use Twitter is because it shows me fresh, current, unfiltered content. I can connect with people on the basis of shared interests and relevant hashtags. I can search for topics and see what people want to share with the world even if I do not follow them. I can as easily find random individuals with something to share as I can find “important” people or those with sophisticated marketing/ promotion strategies. This makes the Twitter experience much more rich and robust.

    • Anthony Horton

      Facebook offers ‘relevance’ or reverse chronological sorting (Top Stories and Most Recent) but *both* are filtered feeds, only including posts that Facebook’s algorithms think that you should see. Twitter’s unfiltered feed is a key differentiation, they’d be crazy to ditch it.

    • Rocky - Wisebirdsays

      Facebook doesn’t offer both. There is no real time option on Facebook. You also have to set it up so that the algorithm knows that you don’t care about sports, or celebrities, or grandma’s selfies.