What’s a Twitter Timeline? It’s a Place Where we Can Put Anything we Want, Says Twitter

What's a Twitter Timeline? It's a Place Where we Can Put Anything we Want, Says Twitter

Earlier this week we reported on news that Twitter has started showing favourites to some users from the accounts that they follow. That is, when their friends favourite a tweet, some of them show up in their timeline.

We’ve also noted how Twitter has been showing tweets from accounts that their friends follow to some users. Both of these updates are being tested on the usual small subset of profiles in Twitter’s everyday experiments, and they work in much the same way that retweets from people you follow appear in your feed.

People hate change, but it really feels like everybody hates these changes from Twitter. But here’s the thing: Twitter doesn’t care.

In an update to their official policy, Twitter has made an important change to the section of their website which answers the question, “What’s a Twitter timeline?”

When we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don’t follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting.

What this means is that right now we all see promoted tweets and retweets from friends in our timeline. Pretty soon it seems likely we’re all going to see occasional favourites from friends and tweets from accounts that they follow that Twitter deems worthy of our feed. And after that, perhaps comments they’ve made in tweets, links they’ve shared to Twitter partners, and so on. After all, no reason to stop this with favourites.

Does it matter? I think so. We all know that when we retweet that tweet is being shared with our network, and we expect to seem them as the end user. It’s a conscious decision – we want that news shared. Promoted products (i.e., ads) are an inevitability of any free platform, and you just kind of learn to accept that. But Twitter’s favourite button has a unique functionality with many users – it’s mostly used to either acknowledge that you’ve seen something or to save it for later. Or both.

Either way it’s used differently to a retweet. After all, if we wanted to openly share a favourite with our network, we’d retweet it, right? While favourites are public they’re not openly displayed and still kind of feel private. They’re like an unspoken nod to a friend. Or, for that matter, a customer: brands use them all the time to acknowledge correspondence. You’re saying: “I’ve seen this.” Now, you could be saying: “You seen this?” It’s a subtle but important difference.

The favourite has always been a bit of a confused feature on Twitter but I think many felt they’d kind of figured it out. Now, it’s moved somewhere between what it was and a retweet that might be seen by your friends. And what use is that, really? My guess is people will simply stop using it.

While I’m all for Twitter turning itself into a goldmine simply so it can carry on existing – it is a business, lest we forget – there are good ways to do things, and bad ways to do things. This feels like the latter to me. And, it appears, pretty much everybody else.