Twitter Risks Backlash With New Order for Timeline

The Numbers Don't Lie: a Look Ahead to Twitter's Earnings

Twitter Inc. is changing its timeline to display popular tweets first, instead of the latest posts, a long-anticipated step that’s likely to anger its most passionate users.

While they might prefer the site to stay the way it is, Twitter has long known that the current format can be hard for new and infrequent users to digest. Because of the sheer volume of tweets passing by, people can miss the most important items, Twitter said in a blog post Wednesday. The new change comes after months of user testing, showing that people interact more if they are shown the best tweets, the San Francisco-based company said.

"We’ve already noticed that people who have used this new feature tend to retweet and tweet more, which is good for all of us," Twitter said in the post.

The revamp is Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey’s latest attempt to reshape Twitter as he seeks to jump-start user growth and draw in more advertisers. It's a risk, and the new format will probably meet with some resistance. When reports of a new timeline order recently emerged, Twitter's most vocal users protested so much that #RIPTwitter was a top-trending topic on the site over the past weekend. 

Dorsey sought to calm them down with a post saying, "we never planned to reorder timelines." Technically, he’s right: the most popular tweets will still be displayed in chronological order—it just won't be all of them. Once people see the top recent tweets, the timeline reverts to the usual reverse chronology. Users will also be given the choice of keeping their old settings. Popular tweets will be selected based on users' past activity, including accounts they interact with and interests, as well as what's going on in their networks.

Orli LeWinter, vice president of strategy and social marketing at 360i, a digital marketing agency, said the timeline update could help Twitter's relationship with advertisers if what the company found in tests proves true on a larger scale.

"Anything that draws more users more frequently to the platform, that's going to be good for marketers," LeWinter said. "Twitter has plateaued a little bit when it comes to new user growth, and we've had some scale problems from a media point of view."

The new design is aimed at making sure people see posts from others, including brands that are active on Twitter. The feature is effectively an expanded version of earlier product changes, such as a "while you were away" section for missed tweets. Twitter's loudest users are now warning that it will become more like Facebook Inc., which also adopted similar changes in the past few years to declutter its news feed by showing content that its software deems most relevant.

Users have an option to choose the new timeline view. Eventually, it will be the default, with Twitter allowing people to opt out in settings.

Any reaction to the new feature will probably be short-lived, given that Twitter is also due to report quarterly earnings later on Wednesday. Profit and revenue growth are projected to slow, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, Twitter’s shares have declined 38 percent this year, on top of a 35 percent drop in 2015.

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