Twitter could move away from its current chronological feed and move towards a feed that ranks tweets in order of relevance, the company's financial chief told a conference in New York.
Comments made by Anthony Noto about making Twitter more relevant for search have led to speculation that the social media platform could be set for a fundamental change in the near future – moving towards a ‘Facebook style’ content feed. So what is actually going on?
What was actually said?
Noto, speaking at the Citi Global Technology Conference in New York, spoke about the desire to make Twitter both more relevant for search and easier for new users to adopt by better organising its content.
“If you think about our search capabilities we have a great data set of topical information about topical tweets”, he claimed. “The hierarchy within search really has to lend itself to that taxonomy.”
He then added that to achieve this, Twitter would have to implement “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.”
Speaking about the current chronological ordering system, Noto suggested that this “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user,” adding that “timely tweets can get buried at the bottom of the feed if the user doesn’t have the app open.
“Putting that content in front of the person at that moment in time is a way to organize that content better.”
What does that actually mean?
In essence, Twitter wants to separate interesting and timely tweets from “noise”.
As it stands, Twitter merely lists content in your feed in the order that it was published, with the newest content at the top of your feed irrespective of its relevance to you. That's great if you are avid user of the platform, as you can follow discussions in real time, but not so useful if you're trying to join 'mid conversation'.
Under an algorithm powered feed, content would be sorted by relevance and context. So, if Twitter detects you have an interest in The Great British Bake-off, you could expect to see Bake-off related discussion more prominently in your feed.
It would mark a huge change for the micro-blogging platform, which has built its reputation on the immediacy of content, with all posts treated equally regardless of a user’s supposed authority or status.
Why would Twitter do this?
A content platform with no concept of relevance or context is a tough sell anyone but hard-core Twitter users, which in turn makes it a hard sell to advertisers.
Whilst the most ardent Twitter user, the one that is glued to their smartphone 24/7, will recoil in horror at the suggestion of changing the feed, it is likely to appeal to the more casual user. This would allow users to cut through the fluff and order content by what is most interesting and relevant to them – a feature that they are likely to be already familiar with through Facebook and other content mediums.
If Twitter is start posting profits and appeasing investors, it needs to attract new users and make it easier for advertisers to get those users.
When is this happening?
The comments from Noto were made in extremely broad terms, so there are no timescales for any changes as of yet. Noto did however suggest that any changes, if they do come, will not be ‘overnight’.
Twitter has dabbled in changes to the news feed in the past, the most notable of which being a system which pulls in content from publishers that users haven’t followed – a feature also implemented by Facebook. Intense criticism of that development prompted CEO Dick Costolo to defend the feature on Sunday, who claimed that ‘unsolicited’ content was only being shown in cases where a user refreshed their feeds and no new content was available.
Expect to see small changes dripping through into user feeds in the near future.