Twitter Starts Using an Algorithm to Curate Users’ Timelines

Optional feature is an extension of Top Tweets

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Twitter as we know it changes today.

The San Francisco-based tech company has introduced an algorithm that will reorder the top of users' timelines with tweets it predicts will be interesting and relevant to them. Tweets that are selected are based on a number of criteria including account interactions, engagement, user interests and network activity. The rest of the newsfeed will then follow the traditional reverse-chronological order.

The optional feature—which will roll out gradually, and can be turned on or off by users—is essentially an extension of the "While you were away" feature Twitter introduced in January 2015, Twitter vp of revenue products Ameet Ranadive told Adweek.

"The reason we're doing this is there is just so much happening on Twitter every day, and we know it is sometimes easy for people to miss great content," Ranadive said. "So, to solve this, we're bringing the tweets from accounts that they follow that people are likely to care about the most, and we're going to bring that to the top of the timeline."

Ranadive said the new timeline will not affect any advertising products. Asked whether the update was the first step in making way for a pay-to-play algorithm approach like Facebook's, he said, "Absolutely not."

"All content on Twitter is created equal," Ranadive said. "There is no barrier between a brand and their followers."

Conversation around the idea heated up over the weekend following a Friday report from Buzzfeed that said Twitter was planning to introduce an algorithm model as early as this week. The platform exploded with upset users, resulting in #RIPTwitter showing up as a trending hashtag.

The next day, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey vaguely addressed the rumors with a series of his own tweets on the subject:

Now that the changes are live, users and marketers will be able to see firsthand whether or not they like the option of having Twitter help pick which tweets they see. On Saturday morning, Bret Taylor, Facebook's former chief technology officer, weighed in with his own tweet.

"Algorithmic feed was always the thing people said they didn't want but demonstrated they did via every conceivable metric," he wrote in the tweet. "It's just better."

Twitter, which tested the beta version of the new format with more than 100 users and brands, found that the update caused people to tweet or retweet more than they previously had. Brands in the beta test also saw increased organic reach, Ranadive said.

"That's how we see this playing out. Brands will start to see that there is more organic engagement for their tweets, and we're going to be directing them to some of these best practices so they can know how to continue to maximize their performance," he said.

A blog post on Twitter's website explaining the changes features testimonies from people and agencies that have tested the changes. Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i, said the changes seem to be beneficial for both consumers and marketers.

"It's clear Twitter has listened to its consumers and its partners, and we're excited to get deeper under the hood to evaluate implications for our clients," she said.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.