Why an Algorithmic Twitter Feed Is a Bad Idea

Twitter is considering a change from a chronological feed to an algorithm-based feed -- but the chronology is a core differentiating feature.


Recently, there have been grumblings from Twitter’s users about the possibility that an algorithm is on the way. Would an algorithm be terrible for Twitter? Why would the company consider such a move, when its format is so well established?

Comments from Twitter’s CFO Anthony Noto have sparked the latest round of introspection and outrage from Twitter users. Speaking at a conference, Noto said that a chronological timeline “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user,” and added “putting that content in front of the person at that moment in time is a way to organize that content better.”

The problem with having an algorithm dictating the flow of content is the possible unintended effects. Live-tweeting could become a thing of the past, which is definitely not in Twitter’s interests, considering its ability to connect second screen audiences. Algorithms could also stifle news discovery by suppressing stories on the verge of critical mass.

Granted, Twitter can be a little daunting to new users, but that much is true of almost any network. A Twitter feed is curated, either carefully or haphazardly, and what may seem like a deluge of information comes from the accounts you find interesting. Chronology is a core feature.

Harry Cheadle, associate editor for Vice writes:

The resulting diversity of shit you can look at by scanning Twitter stands in stark contrast to Facebook, where a mysterious algorithm picks and chooses which of your friends’ statuses appear on your News Feed, resulting in ads showing up under wedding and birth announcements from people you met years ago and have since forgotten about.

Given that the chronological feed is so deeply embedded into Twitter’s brand, it’s unlikely that current users will take kindly to change. Users rarely seem interested in change that doesn’t improve their experience.