Twitter are up to it again folks... They've been spotted testing changes in the wild to one of the features that sets it apart from main rival Facebook: the reverse-chronological feed. Although we've been getting more and more used to seeing promoted posts as part of our Tweeting experience the main view has, up to now, shown us most recent posts first and foremost. If these tests are successful with the limited group of users seeing them we could soon have a timeline displayed to us in a similar fashion to Facebook, with algorithms determining which posts we see.
This change seems to be at odds with the real-time nature of Twitter which could be a damaging move. Twitter consider “meaningful connections in real time” a core brand value, as shown on their brand assets page
. Additionally, a study funded by Twitter
found that 94% of users browsing for news do so by scrolling through their timelines or browsing tweets of specific accounts which they follow. This suggests people enjoy the “breaking news” feel that Twitter provides for easy exploration of topics. There have been plenty of instances where large-scale events come alive on Twitter as they happen. Twitter even hosts a collection of them on this page
Earlier this year Twitter made a fairly bold change to it's search experience, prioritising “Top” tweets, essential a algorithmically-curated selection of tweets relevant to your search term. Looking back on this change and the generally positive reaction it's not surprising we're seeing a similar shift in focus with the news feed interface. I think there's a fundamental difference between the two though, being different views that people use for different reasons. If a user is searching then they will want to see the content most-relevant to their search term; if a user is browsing Twitter then they want to see real-time updates from a variety of accounts which they have chosen to follow.
The change to the reverse-chronological timeline could be the latest in a series of alterations made since co-founder Jack Dorsey became CEO earlier this year. The introduction of “Moments” wasn't taken too keenly while the simple “favourite” icon change from star to heart was complained about the world over. These other changes were both talked about frantically even though their impact was much smaller than the potential this most recent test has. All of these tweaks may be seen as a chance to create new opportunities for marketers, which would make sense as Twitter looks to increasingly monetise the platform. Unfortunately Twitter will become increasingly unappealing to marketers if the number of active users continues to stagnate. If they end up offering a similar advertising service to Facebook then there will be no differentiation for marketers to embrace.