Despite changing the way that we consume news about everything from celebrity breakups to the latest developments in Iraq and Syria, Twitter has yet to figure out how to be profitable and it’s starting to show. Over the last few months Twitter has started tinkering with a lot of its features trying to figure out how it can be more appealing to advertisers and potential new users. Some of those experiments have introduced ideas like an improved internal video player to attract premium video content, and rule changes that allow Twitter to add tweets to your timeline from people and brands you don’t’ follow. If this is all starting to sound familiar, then it’s possible that you’re thinking of Facebook.
Twitter’s CFO Anthony Noto has cautiously announced another step to make the microblogging platform more like Facebook. The service will reportedly soon introduce filtered timelines to make users experience more relevant. By relevant Noto means that an algorithm will select the tweets it thinks you will find most interesting or important and shove them into your timeline rather than the simple chronological timeline that Twitter has today. Instead of seeing the last thing your friends said, you’ll see the most popular thing they’ve said recently.
The goal is to make Twitter more friendly to casual users who aren’t’ checking in every give minutes for the latest timeline updates, but it’s also a major change to the site’s core function. Filtering algorithms turned Facebook from a place to casually check in with friends into a site that floods your feed with Buzzfeed links and baby pictures. The move helped Facebook become the most successful social network in history, but it also risks alienating Twitter’s existing user base, many of whom joined the site to escape Facebook’s overbearing algorithms.
The current version of Twitter is uniquely suited to delivering news that is likely to be ignored by a filtered timeline. This theory was proved recently when Twitter timelines lit up with tweets about police violence in Ferguson, Missouri while Facebook feeds remained relatively silent. For news junkies and culture enthusiasts such an omission makes Facebook seem unreliable and uninteresting in comparison. The specifics of Twitter’s plans are still unrevealed, the service is likely to roll out changes gradually, but the push to monetize the service is strong. The trick will be finding a way to do so without destroying the Twitter’s unique utility in the process.