Following on the heels of news about Twitter executives trying harder to make the social media platform generate more income, Twitter has begun to move away from the one thing that truly set them apart from the competition.
The raw feed known as the timeline, unlike Facebook, was always available in its entirety. Users were free to adjust that raw feed as they saw fit (if they saw fit) with third-party apps like Tweet Deck, lists, and mute. Where Facebook chose for its users how many and which posts from any given person a user is allowed to see on their feed, Twitter wisely kept their nose out of such matters.
First, the “while you were away” and “moments” features were introduced. They were annoying additions but still easy to ignore for the most part.
Now, however, Twitter has begun limited release of a “feature” which distorts the chronological timeline of the Twitter feed. Vague comments from Twitter about challenging their own beliefs and wishes to promote the “best” content fail to address the heart of the matter: Twitter is getting ready to start to pick and choose which Tweets (and by extension, which users) get to skip to the head of the Timeline and receive the most visibility. Why is that so important? Aside from the intrusiveness, when taken in context of Facebook’s long and sordid history of such maneuvers, it’s not hard to see what might possibly be down the road.
Facebook’s seemingly-innocuous forays into this territory eventually resulted in the pay-to-be-seen policy, where users willing to cough up money were guaranteed to show up in their followers’ feeds much better than users who didn’t wish to pay. People who didn’t buy better “reach” saw up to 90% decrease in engagement from their followers. Such a move could have even more repercussions on Twitter, as there is no distinction between business and personal accounts on the latter.
Even assuming Twitter doesn’t require payment for visibility, complex algorithms often tend to favor people who spend more time learning how to game the system over those who try to bring quality content and genuine conversation.
Most of all, Twitter seems to be ignoring one of the biggest reasons people choose Twitter: Because it’s not like Facebook. Trying to become “other Facebook” is a move that will alienate more of their users than Twitter seems to be anticipating.
I like the people I follow on Twitter. I like hearing about their day-to-day lives. Twitter has no place telling me the “best” Tweets–be they purchased or trending–are more important than whatever hi-jinks my friend’s cats just got up to or the screencap a guildie sent from World of Warcraft. I curated my follow list under the assumption that I was being trusted to search out the “best” content for me, the user.