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

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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.

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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.

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

  1. Jon Bergeron

    I don’t use Facebook because of what they did to the news feed and I have personally seen how they delete posts before I can see them. Facebook has done it to many posts from my wife. I do not doubt Twitter will do the same thing and say something from my wife is somehow not relevant to me. It’s a good thing I’ve turned into a Tumblr fan.

  2. I utterly despise Facebook these days, both from the filtering point of view and also (probably inherently connected) the complete and utter lack of chronology in any feed whatsoever. I like chronology. If someone posts something interesting and it doesn’t show up in my news feed until it has a certain number of Likes from mutual friends, what the hell is the point in posting it at all? It becomes a popularity contest, where every post people make to Facebook is tailored with the intention of attracting likes.

    What I love about Twitter is its spontaneity. The character limit used to annoy me but after 15,000+ tweets I daresay I’m used to it. Having a completely raw, unfiltered feed is hugely important to me for this reason. I don’t even mind seeing the occasional sponsored tweet, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the material I want to access; what my friends are thinking and doing right now, which they want to share.

    I have an incredible group of friends on Twitter, I’d hate to see that filtered and algorithmically altered for the sake of ‘progress.’ If it ain’t broke…

    • I have that issue with my “professional” twitter account. It’s all tweets from other professional people talking about professional things in professional ways. I found things got a lot more interesting once I started following people’s personal accounts based on mutual interests – suddenly I have 600-odd followers and am following about the same, all of whom are real individuals with active accounts. Definitely interesting.

  3. Eamon Walsh

    No wonder he came from Google. Well, given that elsewhere this site says how far Baidu is going in deep-learning search capabilities, bettering twitter search is hardly the
    ‘big news’. But such flagrant curation of big data is a trademark google thing (more here abt big data now set to consume one of the more popular (and relatively less conditioned ) social network channel as well.

  4. Twitter will follow Facebook because facebook makes 100’s of million’s of dollars every quarter while Twitter is losing millions.

    As it is now Twitter is not self sufficient it needs to change or die.

  5. Malachy Browne

    On desktop I consume nearly all my news on Twitter through lists. So if they apply it to the timeline only, not so bad. For mobile, I generally scan my timeline and the occasional list for big stories like ferguson, Gaza, CAR etc. So that experience would be damaged.

  6. BMC Guitar Effects

    “Anthony Noto suggested that the service will offer algorithm-driven curation of feeds much like Facebook does, in order to try and improve the relevance for users” – REALLY ?? Straight off the bat, you can smell the idiocy in action. Do honestly think people are that stupid or are really just phoning it in ??? relevance for users?, its relevance for ADVERTISERS and the end financial goals of Twitter! Pure and simple. Stop trying to patronize users and just come out and say it. Leave the bullshit excuses to the politicians.

  7. And thus Twitter self destructs, not in an obvious way, but in a way that the people who made Twitter relevant will leave and find a social network that gets why they joined Twitter in the first place. Letting the marketing analysis guys run the show gets you the New Coke result each & every time. No one in business ever, and I mean NEVER learns this when they know share holders only listen to statistics and not the users/consumers needs and wants from the product they invest time in.
    My Facebook friends ALL use Facebook less often because they never see their friends posts due to the insanely useless feed algorithm. So to the shareholders of Twitter, do you really think algorithms that actively cause users to interact LESS with your product is a win for you, do you really? And as has been mentioned in other replies here, Filtered = Censored or is Twitter not aware of it’s place in historic Political events of the past few years, dictatorships seemed very keen to curb Twitters availability I’d market the Sh#t out of that if my brand was seen as a tool of democracy around the world but I’m a human not an algorithm so I must be wrong?

  8. Nico Schoonderwoerd

    What Twitter might do is offering you both the filtered and the unfiltered stream. The ‘discovery’ tab in the Twitter app is a mess and this filter stream would be good place to put it.

    I have to admit i’m totally biased here! My company offers a filtered stream, containing the most important subjects (trends) and most important tweets.

  9. Twitter can bite me. I’m an adult and perfectly capable of deciding who I want to follow, thanks. Unless I missed something and Twitter gave birth to me, they’re not my mommy and they have no say in what I get to see, so they need to butt out.