Is a Proposed Twitter Algorithm the Death of “Real Time” on the Social Platform?

At the Citi Global Technology Conference in New York, Twitter’s chief financial officer (CFO) Anthony Noto discussed what’s on the horizon for Twitter in 2015 – and a new Twitter timeline is one of the initiatives. 

Twitter IPO

From a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report, Noto was quoted as saying the reverse chronological order of content that Twitter is known for “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user.”

But could this move have huge implications for real-time marketing and publishing on Twitter, and will people welcome it with open arms?

Recently, Twitter began tinkering with the feed by featuring content that users didn’t sign up for, and, according to reports, reactions were mixed. For the uninitiated, this new function would surface favorite tweets from accounts a user follows; in other words, if a user you follow “favorited” a tweet, it would end up in your Twitter feed.

From MediaBistro.com

The move wasn’t popular, and the reaction became even more severe when the experiment became an actual feature. Subsequently, Twitter updated its policy to better explain “What’s a Twitter timeline?” – specifically, it’s now a place where they (Twitter) can add content to your timeline that it deems popular or relevant.

If the sentiment around this latest feature is any indication of how some will react to change on Twitter, the social platform may have its work cut out for it. But, according to the WSJ, the proposed Twitter feed algorithm would better organize the content. Noto said:

“If you think about our search capabilities we have a great data set of topical information about topical tweets. The hierarchy within search really has to lend itself to that taxonomy. [With that comes the need for] 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.”

Over at Digiday.com, speculation on how a new algorithm could impact real-time marketing and brand publishing on Twitter ensued. Matt Heindl, senior director of social media marketing at Razorfish, told Digiday brands may have to “pay to play” with the new algorithmic model.

From Digiday

Twitter’s temporal nature is, for better or worse, responsible for the rise of real-time marketing in recent years. An algorithm would mean brands would likely have to pay to have their real-time tweets distributed to a certain number of people, Heindl said, even if it’s just $25.

And when it comes to news publishing, how might this affect the format we’re used to? John McDermott, a staff writer at Digiday, weighed in:

Twitter has been, and continues to be, the platform of choice for reporters covering breaking-news stories. Twitter’s influence in this sense cannot be understated: Conversations on Twitter about Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, pushed the story to the national forefront. This was in stark contrast to Facebook, where much of the conversation two weeks ago revolved around the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Twitter declined to say how an algorithm will affect how publishers’ stories are distributed.

But others are reeling in the speculation, saying that while Noto’s comments sparked controversy, it’s not yet time to panic. The Washington Post said it’s important to read between the lines:

It’s important to understand what Noto did and didn’t say. He pointed to the problem of important content disappearing quickly and said that Twitter might resurface tweets from people who the user already follows if the company deems those tweets important. How that would work is anybody’s guess. But Noto did not suggest that Twitter would start filtering or curating timelines. If all Twitter does is resurface a tweet from someone that a user follows, they’re not distorting what the user sees. That user already follows the person whose tweet they’re now seeing. They would have already seen the tweet if not for the fact that they were away from their timeline.

Indeed, Noto did try to temper reaction in his talk by saying the changes to Twitter feeds wouldn’t be drastic. He told the WSJ, “We’re going to do all of these methodically. We test and make sure we understand what the implications are,” adding, “Individual users are not going to wake up one day and find their timeline completely ranked by an algorithm.”

What are your thoughts on how Twitter could improve its feed? Should Twitter just leave it alone? Let us know below in the comments.

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