Coming Soon From Twitter: Group Direct Messages, Better Search, Algorithmic Timelines

Coming Soon From Twitter: Group Direct Messages, Better Search, Algorithmic Timelines

People hate change. And lately, with Twitter, that’s become a bit of a problem, as they’re changing pretty much everything.

Some of the changes have been well received. Others are less popular, but Twitter doesn’t seem to care. They’re on a roll.

And according to chief financial officer Anthony Noto, even bigger changes are still to come.

This week Noto was speaking at the Citi Global Technology Conference in New York, where he dropped a few bombs about the future of Twitter, including some major product adjustments.

A Better Twitter Search

Such as? How about a better Twitter search engine? Noto says that Daniel Graf, Twitter’s new head of product, has made improving Twitter search a top priority for 2015.

“If you think about our search capabilities we have a great data set of topical information about topical tweets,” said Noto. “The hierarchy within search really has to lend itself to that taxonomy.”

Group Direct Messaging

What about a better direct message system? DMs on Twitter have always been lazy and half-hearted – they’re as much of a nuisance as they are a benefit – but Noto says that group direct messaging could be in the pipeline, which would give users a chance to have private chats with friends. This, Noto adds, has many benefits, notably when the content is sensitive.

“I’m not sure I want to have (that) conversation in front of my boss and the rest of the 271 million global users. I might want to take that to a private setting which you can do through direct messaging. Today you can only do that one to one as opposed to one to many. So that’s an example of innovation around sharing or expression that we can pursue over time.”

Algorithmic Timelines

Finally, the biggest reveal from Noto’s talk was that Twitter is seriously considering borrowing a leaf from Facebook’s book and applying an algorithm to user timelines to reduce noise and ensure that high-quality tweets float to the top. Today, every tweet from everyone you follow flows through your Twitter timeline in reverse-chronological order. Nothing is filtered out, and no tweet is granted any higher significance (unless it’s promoted).

Noto, however, feels that this “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user,” largely because you have to be on Twitter constantly and read every tweet to guarantee that you don’t miss anything important. Twitter could offer a superior experience, he proposes, if it surfaced the most interesting tweets as soon as you logged on.

“Putting that content in front of the person at that moment in time is a way to organize that content better,” he says.

And to accomplish that, Twitter needs “an algorithm that delivers the depth and breadth of the content we have on a specific topic and then eventually as it relates to people.”

What Does This Mean for The Future of Twitter?

Switching Twitter from its raw feed to an algorithm that only shows some tweets, even if they are the most “interesting”, is a huge change for the platform. And it’s one that will not be welcomed by many veteran users. I have my own concerns about how effective this could be. Part of Twitter’s broad appeal, certainly when compared to Facebook, is that, if you want to, you CAN see everything.

However, Twitter’s biggest issue right now is finding and keeping new users. And in a world where Facebook has laid down the rules and defined what is “normal” for social media, Twitter remains a strange and confusing beast for many newcomers. So I can totally see the attraction for Twitter in making the timeline experience more relevant.

If this comes to be, I would hope that they borrow another element from Facebook and give us two ways to view our timeline, somewhat like Facebook’s News Feed and Most Recent options. One Twitter view would apply the algorithm to the feed, which should be the default for all new users, and the other would let you see the entire Twitter firehose, as we all do now. That way, they can hopefully convert and retain a much higher percentage of first-timers while keeping the core of Twitter – the people who have used and loved the platform for five years or more – as happy as larks.

(Source: The Wall Street Journal.)