Will the New Twitter Algorithm Make It Less Useful to Writers?

ios_homescreen_iconTwitter recently implemented a new algorithm in its code that selectively includes content from users you don’t follow into your timeline.  This change has caused a lot of backlash in the Twitterverse, for relatively obvious reasons.  TechCrunch reports on the changes:

The specific change in how your Twitter timeline operates allows for the company to inject additional content into your feed from other users you don’t follow. This is in addition to promoted tweet advertising content — you still get that thrust into your feed too.

So basically this change means tweets from people you’re not interested in may now show up in your Twitter feed. And judging by the popularity reference, at least some of the content being algorithmically injected is exactly the sort of mainstream trivia that makes Facebook so uninteresting to a large swathe of Twitter users (myself included). And indeed the sort of content that populates Twitter’s Discover feed — aka ‘the feed that no-one reads’. Except now some of that crap is being thrust in front of your eyeballs, mingled with the tweets you did want to read.

Twitter’s focus on popularity as a selection criteria for injecting tweets evidently also means that tweets marked as favorites by other users can now appear in your timeline — a change that has already triggered a backlash of complaints, as noted by an earlier Guardian report.

This is troubling to me as a writer, because I use Twitter as my primary social media tool.  I use it for marketing, networking, and interacting socially with friends and acquaintances.  A big part of the appeal of Twitter (aside from the fact that it’s still primarily text-based) is the fact that I can curate a news feed that is tailored precisely to my interests and field.  The idea of Twitter changing their app to deliberately interfere with that functionality irks me.

It seems fairly obvious to me that this is part of a larger effort to monetize the service and therefore increase corporate profits.  Yes, they already have advertising in the form of promoted tweets, but the more power Twitter has over your timeline the more opportunity they have to fill it with irrelevant, mainstream, commercialized crap (which, as the TechCrunch article notes, is exactly what has happened to Facebook).