Hours ahead of its latest financial results release, Twitter has introduced a controversial -- though optional -- change to how new tweets are displayed on a user's timeline. Rather than viewing tweets in the long-time default format of reverse chronological order, users can now choose to switch to an algorithm-driven format designed to show more important updates first.
On Friday, just the fact that Twitter was considering such a move set off a steady stream of tweets under the hashtag #RIPTwitter from users opposed to the change. The volume of comments led CEO Jack Dorsey on Saturday to tweet that the company "never planned to reorder timelines" in the coming week.
That statement remains true: Twitter today continues to follow its original approach of posting tweets from the newest at the top to the oldest at the bottom. However, users can now ask to see the most important updates first.
Choice for 'Best Tweets First'
"Here's how it works," senior engineering manager Mike Jahr wrote today on the Twitter blog. "You flip on the feature in your settings: then when you open Twitter after being away for a while, the tweets you're most likely to care about will appear at the top of your timeline -- still recent and in reverse chronological order."
The feature is available on the Web as well as on Twitter for iOS and Android. On the Web, the activation box will be found in the Content section of a user's settings, next to a box with the option, "Show me the best tweets first." Users can at any time turn off those settings and refresh their timelines to see all new tweets the old-fashioned way, Jahr added.
Twitter plans to turn on the new feature option in the coming weeks and users will be alerted with a notification in their timelines, Jahr said.
"We love it and think you will too," he said. "If you don't, send your thoughts our way, and you can easily turn it off in settings."
'First View' for Marketers
A number of Twitter-watchers believe such new features could help the company overcome its current challenges in attracting new users, which would mean more potential eyeballs for advertisers and greater optimism among investors. (Twitter is scheduled to release its fourth-quarter and 2015 fiscal year results late this afternoon.)
Many veteran Twitter-users, however, have resisted such changes, warning that they do not want the micro-blogging site to end up looking more like Facebook. A number of them continued to voice their opposition under the #RIPTwitter hashtag today, with comments like, "By introducing 'The Algorithm' -- Twitter is dictating what you see," and "I welcome our algorithmic overlords" as well as "So now Twitter is dying slowly."
Yesterday Twitter also announced the launch of First View, a new feature aimed at advertisers seeking to engage with users via promoted brand videos at the top of their timelines. "First View helps marketers achieve significant audience reach with exclusive ownership of Twitter's most valuable advertising real estate for a 24-hour period," revenue product manager Deepak Rao said on the company's investor relations blog.
The new feature will be phased in for managed clients in the U.S. first, with expansion to global advertisers in the coming months, Rao said.