A non-reverse-chronological timeline may come Twitter


Twitter has changed a lot in the last few months. Itreplaced its stars with hearts. It entered the content aggregation business. And now, it’s testing a timeline that doesn’t present tweets in the reverse-chronological order used since its debut. In the process, it’s offering more evidence that it wants to compete with Facebook.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that the company is testing a new timeline. “This is an experiment. We’re continuing to explore ways to surface the best content for people using Twitter,” the spokesperson said in an email. “That’s all we have to share on the test at the moment.” Other questions weren’t answered.

The Facebook-ification of Twitter isn’t new. Everyone’s favorite little tweety bird has redesigned its user profiles, removed the limit on direct messages, and even changed its iconic “favorite” to the “like” most often associated with Facebook. But the reverse-chronological timeline continues to differentiate the networks.

Facebook doesn’t trust its users to be content with a time-ordered News Feed. The company uses all kinds of algorithms to determine what’s most likely to make its users scroll down through the status updates, image macros, and videos shared to its service. It’s almost like the company has to spoon-feed its users.

Twitter doesn’t bother with that. It simply regurgitates what other users have said, almost like it’s mama-birding its users with 140-character snippets of text. The stuff Twitter users put into the service is the same stuff (for the most part) that will come out when other users mindlessly check the service for updates.

A timeline like the one with which Twitter’s experimenting changes that. Now instead of an unfiltered feed that people can trust to show them whatever they people they follow have decided to share, now they’ll be presented with whatever view of the world Twitter thinks is most likely to keep their eyes on its service.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has changed the timeline. It’s also inserted tweets from users that a person doesn’t follow to try and get them to interact with new people, selected tweets a user might have missed with a “While you were away” feature, and created an “instant timeline” to acclimate new users to its service.

Though this experiment shouldn’t come as a surprise. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said in a second quarter earnings call that the company would “continue to question the reverse chronological timeline” as it attempts to “balance recency with relevance.” This experiment is a step in that direction.

Now the service will see how many of its users preferred to consume whatever Twitter forced back up its digital gullet or if they’ll like the more selective diet afforded by an algorithmically-determined timeline. Perhaps the company could ask Facebook for pointers on how to make its users take whatever they can get.