Less than a week after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the social media website would not change the way tweets are generated, the company is doing exactly that.
Twitter announced on Wednesday that it would gradually introduce a new feature that will automatically generate a series of “best tweets” at the top of users’ timelines.
Twitter says the change will make sure you “never miss important Tweets from people you follow” when you’ve been away from Twitter for some time.
About a dozen “Tweets you’re most likely to care about” will appear at the top of users’ timelines in reverse chronological order every time you re-open the site or app, explained Cameron Gordon of Twitter Canada.
The change was introduced to some accounts on Wednesday and it will roll out gradually to users of the website and iOS and Android app around the world over the next few days, Gordon told the Toronto Star in a phone interview.
Users will have the chance to opt out of the new feature, but the change is already garnering strong reactions online since rumours about it began circulating last week.
People have been using the hashtag #RIPTwitter to bemoan the new feature.
The hashtag first circulated last week after a Buzzfeed article broke the news of the pending changes, causing Twitter faithful to wonder if the website was turning into Facebook. (Facebook introduced algorithm-generated news feed changes last year.)
In response to the criticism, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted on Feb. 6 that the change would not happen.
Gordon said the top tweets will be determined by user behaviour, including what subject matter you tweet about, which accounts you follow and engage with most, and tweets that get a lot of engagement overall.
If you have been tweeting a lot about NHL trades, like former Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf being dealt to the Ottawa Senators, you can expect to see tweets about hockey in the new section, Gordon said.
The same idea applies if you mainly follow Twitter accounts based in Toronto: a Toronto-heavy series of “best tweets” will be generated.
“At any point, just pull-to-refresh to see all new Tweets at the top in the live, up-to-the-second experience you already know and love,” Twitter’s senior engineering manager Mike Jahr wrote in a blog post.
Jahr also said tweets that used the new feature tend to retweet and tweet more than others.
For now, the “best tweets” feature will appear to users in the turned off format, and they will have the option to turn it on by checking a box on their individual account settings page.
In the next month, however, Twitter will automatically turn on the feature for all users. Anyone that wants to opt out will then have the option to do so, by again going to the settings page.
The feature is similar to Twitter’s existing “While you were away” option, which uses an algorithm to collect a handful of “the most interesting Tweets you received since your last visit”.
The main difference is that the “best tweets” will be integrated into the timeline whereas “While you were away” was a subsection, Gordon said.
Gordon said the feature won’t make a big difference for Twitter “power users,” meaning those that open the application or website over a dozen times each day.
But people who are away from Twitter for extended periods of time will likely feel it more, he said.
The change comes after Twitter announced earlier this week that it would also allow companies to place a 24-hour ad in the top spot when users log into the Twitter app or on twitter.com. The First View feature is being rolled out in the U.S. first and will go global in the next few months.
Many users criticized the changes this week.
“I'm a grownup. I don’t need a ‘council’ to protect my feelings. Quit censoring Twitter,” American actor Allen Covert commented.
“After 2+ decades working in online communities, I am dumbfounded this move. The inmates have taken over the asylum,” user Emily Hurley wrote. “If you don't mind, @jack, I'd prefer to make my own decisions about which tweets are the ‘best,’” another user said.
“With millions of regular Twitter users worldwide, we tend to get big reactions for any change we make on our platform,” Gordon said in an email to the Star.
“We recognize that different users engage with Twitter in different ways so this new timeline option is another way of making Twitter more personalized for both current and potential users.”
Here’s how to turn off the “best Tweets first” feature:
On Twitter.com: Go to your Account Settings page. Under Content, look for Timeline. Click the box next to “Show me the best Tweets first” to adjust your settings.
Twitter for iOS: Tap the gear icon, select Settings and choose the account you’d like to adjust. Under Timeline, tap Timeline personalization. Tap next to “Show me the best Tweets first” to turn it on or off.
Twitter for Android: Tap the overflow icon. Go into Settings and tap Timeline. Check or uncheck the box next to “Show me the best Tweets first.”